Anika Tabachnick on Intergenerational Exchange and Creating Supportive Museum Programs

Q&A with Anika Tabachnick, creative aging programs associate at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

How long have you been at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art [BIMA]?
I started in October 2020, and I’m the first person to head the museum’s creative aging program. A lot of the activities that fall under creative aging were on hold when I arrived. The museum was closed for the majority of my first year.

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What is the creative aging program?
“Creative aging” is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of programs, projects, and exhibitions designed by and for older adults. Bainbridge Island, here in the state of Washington, has quite a large—and very engaged—population of people over sixty-five.
This program provides space for them and incorporates their voices into what’s happening at BIMA.

What does your role entail?
I run a lot of recurring events, including a weekly mindfulness meditation and “Look Again,” a facilitated art discussion for people with early-stage memory loss and their care partners, and I direct outreach to elder-focused organizations such as senior centers and living communities. I also cocurate intergenerational exhibitions and activities, and make sure that we provide welcoming and engaging spaces for older and younger people—who have similar barriers to coming to the museum, such as transportation, access, and comfortability.

What are some of the program’s goals?
I get excited about the possibility of intergenerational exchange, and finding ways to interweave that into our creative aging program. We don’t age in isolation. And multi-age connections are beneficial for everyone involved. I want to use that interaction as a base for everything we do.

Many museums and other cultural organizations are trying to engage a wider range of communities. But my two groups, the aged and the very young, often get lost or just placated with superficial activities. Simply because people are showing up doesn’t mean that they’re being heard or included. Maybe they find peace and value in the museum experience, but they might also have a lot to contribute to it.

Portrait of Anika Tabachnick.

Portrait of Anika Tabachnick.

How has Covid-19 impacted the scope of your work?
One of the benefits of entering this position during the pandemic is that I haven’t known anything else in this role. What was originally supposed to be an outreach effort changed to better serve traditionally neglected communities within the museum itself.

Many older adults struggle with feelings of isolation, which have only been exacerbated by physical distancing mandates. The first program we restarted was mindfulness meditation, which is also one of the longest-running programs at BIMA. There’s a core group of people who have really built a community around this event. We began meeting on Zoom, and then over the summer, when there was an opportunity to meet in person, the group elected to stay online. It also expanded to include people who don’t live on Bainbridge Island, and so the digitization of the program enabled us to create a new and larger network.

What do you look for before getting involved in a project?
I like to consider how a project is designed to treat its constituents. Institutions often create “participatory” projects but fail to think about how it actually feels to participate.

I’m very fortunate to have the resources and flexibility to develop new programs. Last year, I helped organize a pop-up exhibition to commemorate LGBTQ Pride. It was quite a departure from how we usually put together exhibitions. It wasn’t overly focused on individual artworks, but rather on people sharing their stories through the written word and visual art. Since it went really well, I was given additional resources and time to organize it again this year and to intertwine it with the other work I’m doing. I see this as an opportunity to involve different groups, support local artists, and bring teaching artists into the fold. There’s so much fear that if you focus on the process over the product, the outcome won’t be interpretable. But people need to see that doing these kinds of exhibitions can create both an interesting process and a good result.


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