FRANKFORT, Ky. — Receiving an Arts Access Assistance (AAA) Grant from the Kentucky Arts Council earlier this year allowed the Fine Arts Bardstown Society (FABS) and local advocates for the elderly to take a new approach in reaching out to the population of Nelson County.

"We have a huge art community in Nelson County," said Jennifer Van Mersbergen, business development director at Life Care of Bardstown who helped coordinate the project. "But I don't think anyone had thought to focus on the senior community before. I don't think anyone had said 'let's offer free art classes to seniors.'"

But that's the plan Van Mersbergen and FABS made when they discovered the arts council had grant funds available to provide arts programming to senior populations. FABS applied for a grant to offer free visual art classes for seniors 65 and older in watercolor, pastels and mosaic. Classes were tailored to maximize learning opportunities for the age group, and were held at the Senior Citizens Center in Bardstown.

"It's rare that someone says 'here are the supplies, here are the things you need to make this happen,'" said Van Mersbergen. "We introduced seniors at all different levels – seniors who had had strokes, seniors in wheelchairs, seniors who do not have health complications at all – people at all different levels were able to take advantage of these classes."

Applications are now being accepted for the second round of AAA Grant funding from the arts council to address individuals or communities of people age 65 and older. "Creative aging and lifelong learning" is the theme for grants submitted during the fiscal year 2015 cycle. The involvement of professionally trained, experienced artists, arts professionals and/or an arts organization is essential.

"The arts enrich life for people of all ages," said Lori Meadows, arts council executive director. "We developed this grant because we know there are stages in life when people may not have access to the arts or may not know how to access the arts. This program is meant to help Kentuckians overcome these obstacles."

AAA Grants support arts programs that serve populations whose opportunities to experience the arts may be limited by age, geographic location, ethnicity, economic status, disability, or other factors. The grants offer funding to increase the resources of organizations that may currently serve the targeted population in other capacities.

The arts council awarded more than $50,000 in grants to six organizations earlier this year to provide arts programming to people 65 and older.

"We're repeating the theme from our first round of grant applications because of the obvious need and interest in providing arts experiences to the aging population," Meadows said.

Van Mersbergen said 60 adults age 65 and older took advantage of the free art classes offered through the program. Each class was at capacity. The group is now seeking funding from private entities to continue the project for the city's older citizens.

"I cannot believe how motivating it has been for our senior community and our community as a whole," said Van Mersbergen. "These classes brought a lot of joy to our seniors."

Organizations eligible to apply include:

  • Public libraries, co-operative extension offices, social service agencies, health departments and other community-based organizations serving Kentuckians.

  • Kentucky nonprofit organizations with 501(c) (3) status who do not conduct arts programming as a primary activity. Verification of tax-exempt status may be found on the IRS website (www.irs.gov).

  • Government agencies, colleges and universities if the project primarily serves the population defined by the theme.

  • For-profit social service agencies with resident populations (nursing homes, mental health facilities, independent living centers, group homes, etc.) and correctional facilities.

Interested applicants are encouraged to contact Arts Access Program Director Sarah Schmitt at sarah.schmitt@ky.gov or 888-833-2787, ext. 492, to verify eligibility before starting an application.

The Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, creates opportunities for Kentuckians to value, participate in and benefit from the arts. Kentucky Arts Council funding is provided by the Kentucky General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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