Type “define learning” into a search engine, and more than 500 million hits come up in less than a second. In 2018, the various contemplative strains floating through the stratosphere on how we learn, why we learn, what we learn, how we increase learning, and how we measure learning are legion. Amongst the virtual stacks of data on learning is a section targeting another equally vast area of interest, debate, concern, and research: memory care, a distinct form of long-term care designed to meet the needs of a person with some type of memory problem.
In 2001, the National Endowment for the Arts began a long-term research project with George Washington University that has come to be known as the Creativity and Aging Study.[i] The study identified many benefits of participating in creative activities, not the least of which was improved health.[ii] Over the years, the study has led to further research related to the creative arts and aging, and has supported the work of individuals and organizations who ask, “How can acquiring a new skill stem the tide for an individual who has not only ceased acquiring knowledge and skill, but is actively losing both?”
It was at the corner where aging and learning meet that Northern Clay Center (NCC) found itself in 2008. Serving the Twin Cities region, NCC had just received a Wallace Foundation Excellence Award Grant[iii] to support the development of new programs that would bring in more participants age 55 and older. NCC envisioned creating a program that would support healthful aging and capitalize on the progress and momentum of its outreach program, ClayToGo!, through which NCC provides short visits and extended artist residencies using the ClayToGo! Van, tours and artist demonstrations for groups, and public programs with neighborhood festivals. All activities are taught by professional teaching artists.