Impact Stories

Help spread the word

Share this page:

Collaborative Arts Cross Generational Bridges

Is there a way to bridge the generation gap between kids and adults in a way that’s fun for everyone? For two Milwaukee nonprofits, the answer is “absolutely!”

Danceworks and Milwaukee Public Theatre use a variety of media and art forms to create connections and build trust between young Milwaukee residents and those who are young at heart. Their intergenerational arts programs bring diverse age groups together to team up on creative projects from dance and movement, to painting and more. It’s an approach that encourages participants to see their partners as individuals, not stereotypes.

IMAP Connects the Generations

Since 2003, the Helen Bader Foundation has helped Danceworks bring its Intergenerational Multi-Arts Project (IMAP) to sites across the metro-Milwaukee area, where programs for older adults partner with local schools.

Because of Danceworks’ commitment to healthy aging programs, the Helen Bader Foundation has committed more than $115,000 in grants to help pilot and expand IMAP.

Through dance, storytelling, visual arts, and other creative outlets, youth and older adults, particularly those who are in the early stages of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, are connected by a common purpose. As they work together, the older adults share stories of their own lives with their young, enthusiastic listeners who are curious about what the world was like before their time.

Over the 12-week program, Danceworks professionals lead the teams through motions that engage both age groups. Together, the participants develop artworks and dance moves that are incorporated into a big, citywide celebration and performance toward the end of the school year.

Danceworks reaches out to a diverse mix of participants. The organization collaborates with 12 sites throughout the city, including the United Community Center and Bruce Guadalupe School on the near south side. According to Danceworks executive director Deborah Farris, serving a range of ethnic groups means keeping the IMAP structure flexible from site to site, but its core concept of linking the ages is universal.

“No matter the ethnicity of the groups we work with from one day to another, we always see elders overcoming isolation, even those who have dementia conditions, and IMAP helps them realize their value,” Farris said.

Citywide Celebrations

Similar to IMAP, the Milwaukee Public Theatre’s Summer in the City Program encourages kids and teens to collaborate with adults on how to best tell their personal stories. For years, the program has included theatrical workshops, performances, and other hands-on activities at sites across the city, serving upwards of 5,000 youth each summer.

A growing part of the program involves kids and adults working together to create big, colorful masks and puppets that stand out in a crowd. The theatre’s puppet workshops are a fun and creative way to tell neighborhood stories and encourage people to visit parts of the city they’ve never been to before. In the same spirit of inclusiveness, the facilitators make an effort to reach out to people of all physical and cognitive abilities and encourage them to participate.

Throughout the summer, mini parades are held at festivals and community events across the city. In July, the Summer of Peace parade and festival takes place on Milwaukee’s west side. From Sherman Park to Washington Park, the marchers bring a message of peace to residents during a time of year when violence is at its highest.

The program culminates over Labor Day weekend with the All-City People’s Parade and Pageant winding from Zeidler Park to the Summerfest grounds. Larger-than-life puppets and handmade floats make their way through downtown accompanied by the community members who worked so hard on them all summer long.

“We reach a broad spectrum of our community, and that’s reflected in Summer in the City,” said Barbara Leigh, executive director of the Milwaukee Public Theatre. “Working with some of the best artists in the city, we have also developed a strong corps of community volunteers, who speak the praises of the program and get more youth involved.”