Compassionate Artists, a nonprofit in Long Beach, California, brings music, dance, and art to financially disadvantaged seniors living in residential care facilities in Southeast Los Angeles County. Founder and Executive Director Carol Gibson launched Compassionate Artists in 2016. For six years, the team has offered live performances and activities, bringing joy and creativity to seniors.
Something I love about your work is your understanding that a person’s love of art doesn’t end as we age, and that the arts improve our physical and mental health and well-being throughout life. How did you come to focus on seniors?
In her later years, my mother-in-law lived in high-end assisted living facilities. She was very depressed. The only time she came alive was when there were live music performances. She would dance and sing and twirl around, and we glimpsed the woman she was before her illnesses. I thought to myself, the folks who can afford $3500+ a month have an opportunity to enjoy live entertainment; what’s happening in the facilities for financially disadvantaged seniors, those who rely on Social Security and Medi-Cal to survive? I discovered that many of these low-end facilities have almost no budget for activities. The facilities we serve have a budget of between $100-$200 a month for up to 160 residents. This budget is also supposed to cover seasonal celebrations and birthdays.
Tell us a bit about your participants and partner facilities. Who do you serve?
We have been serving three facilities since the beginning, providing weekly arts activities. It was very important to us to do things right and be able to create a personal relationship with our participants. Our participants range from dementia/memory-care patients to the physically disabled. We also serve those at assisted living and retirement centers. We plan to add senior centers in low-income areas over the next few months. Our most recent addition to the program was last week. We would like to add three to five additional facilities within the next year.
During the pandemic, your team switched from in-person events to providing activity books and individual creative boxes of art supplies and projects to the facilities you work with to engage participants. What’s included in the boxes and activity books?
The activity books contained 52 pages of activities. They included brain puzzles, memory activities, historical information about the current month, exploring a different country every month, stretching and chair exercises, and simple dot-to-dot drawings and coloring activities.
The creative boxes included basic art supplies like paints and brushes, ceramics to paint, colored pencils, glue, a number of art activities, crossword puzzles, pens, holiday-themed crafts, card-making supplies, and a number of other basic supplies. Monthly, we would drop off additional art activities for them to work on. Our main challenge was that our folks were in isolation so the crafts had to be easy with very simple instructions, since they would have no assistance. Our in-person activities can be much more complicated, depending on the participants’ likes and abilities.
You trained as a musician and singer, worked in theater as a professional stage manager, and led the special events department for Universal Studios, Hollywood. How does that training and experience inform your work leading Compassionate Artists?
I have personal experience in both the performance and production sides of special events like concerts, theatrical productions, dance companies, and creating art. My stage management experience has given me the organizational skills that I need to structure Compassionate Artists in the most productive way. I am very experienced working with all type of performers, so I am familiar with their needs and have the ability to connect with a variety of personalities. I have been a passionate volunteer my whole life and love making peoples’ lives better. I have also served as a board chair and executive director for other organizations, which has prepared me (somewhat) for the nonprofit world. I will admit that it is taking time to realize all that is entailed in running our organization. We are mainly a volunteer-run organization, and the majority of the work lies on my shoulders. I do pay for the services of an accountant, grant writer, and web designer. We have recently started receiving grants and our donations have greatly increased. California independent contractor laws prevent me from bringing on people on a per-project basis, but I plan to have paid employees within the year.
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