At any age, educational opportunities can improve quality of life and inspire new ways of thinking. At Chicago Methodist Senior Services, we offer innovative programs dedicated to lifelong learning for seniors. Through our art history certificate program with Director of Arts Programming Dr. Mark Pohlad, residents can earn a “Certificate of Achievement for Continuing Education in Art History.”

To complete the certificate program, residents attend art history lectures led by Dr. Pohlad, who is also a professor at DePaul University. In these lectures, Dr. Pohlad and the class explore artistic concepts and dive into historical details while enjoying beautiful paintings, sculptures and architecture.

Lifelong learning for seniors in CMSS’ art history certificate program

Dr. Pohlad, who was an active volunteer at CMSS before joining the staff, saw that residents not only enjoyed discussing history and engaging with art, but wanted to keep learning. So, instead of just showing them artwork, he decided to create a lecture series.

At each lecture, Dr. Pohlad presents to about 15 residents across CMSS’s three communities — Hartwell Place, Wesley Place and Covenant Home of Chicago. Each session also includes time for questions and a group discussion.

Any resident can complete the certificate program by attending four of Dr. Pohlad’s regular lectures. The lectures are designed similarly to those in a college course, but instead of having to attend every session participants can pick and choose the topics that interest them most. Dr. Pohlad’s past lecture topics have included:

  • “Early Christian and Byzantine Art”
  • “Abraham Lincoln in Photography”
  • “Autumn in Art”
  • “A History of Chicago Art”

Once they’ve participated in four lectures, residents receive a framed “Certificate of Achievement for Continuing Education in Art History” at an informal graduation ceremony.

Benefits of art therapy and lifelong learning for seniors

Classes like Dr. Pohlad’s enable residents to engage with their peers and explore new ideas, which can enhance quality of life. Lifelong learning programs like these lectures also offer residents:

  • Opportunities to observe, reflect and think creatively
  • Improved communication skills and evocation of memories
  • Increased confidence and self-esteem

While the benefits of art therapy are becoming widely recognized, art history hasn’t been a part of many programs to date. Based on the resident response we’ve seen to the CMSS program, we believe art history has a role to play in art therapy for seniors, and may provide therapeutic benefits for people with memory loss. For these residents, talking about art history provides a natural segue to discussing other pieces of history. These conversations have ranged from reminiscing about early TV shows to sharing experiences from World War II.

The greatest benefit of these lectures, according to Dr. Pohlad, is that they answer a need for intellectual enrichment. Many residents are college-educated, and these lectures give them a chance to engage and discuss interesting subjects in college-like setting again. For others, the program gives them the opportunity to complete a new educational achievement.

One Covenant Home resident, Marci, always hoped she could go back to college. Thanks to CMSS’ art history certificate program, Marci says her prayers were answered and “college came to her.”

Dr. Pohlad’s art history classes are just one of the new programs he has introduced at CMSS since becoming Director of Arts Programming. In “Art Face-to-Face,” Dr. Pohlad and a resident meet one-on-one and discuss a variety of artworks. In “Culture Chats,” small groups get together at each CMSS community for conversations about a wide range of topics.

What art history topic would you want to hear about in a lecture from Dr. Pohlad? Get in touch to offer your thoughts and ideas, or learn more about the art programs we offer.