I’m an educator here at MoMA, and I am 30 years old. When I teach in MoMA’s galleries I am mostly talking with people who are twice, sometimes three times my age. It’s not something I anticipated when I was an art history student 10 years ago, but it is one of the more informative and enlightening aspects of my job: discussing art with people who have far different—and far more—life experiences than I do.
I’m referring to participants in our Prime Time programs for older New Yorkers. Last May, my colleague Francesca Rosenberg wrote about the launch of Prime Time, and as the program has grown over the past year we’ve gotten to know these Prime Timers better through gallery discussions, studio programs, film screenings, walking tours, and more.
In celebration of our Prime Time exhibition, on view in the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building from May 18 to June 5, I asked a selection of participants to share their thoughts on aging and the role of art in their lives.What role does art play in your life? How does MoMA feed that relationship?
Shelley (65): I consider myself a creative person, and living in NYC gives me an opportunity to experience in many forms. I love to create as well as view art.
Irene (76): Without art my life would be very, very gray. I am in a museum at least once a week, usually more, and I take pastel and collage classes. I come to MoMA for all that it offers.
Albert (74): I retired from business nine years ago. Since then I have been painting on my own on a regular basis as well as taking courses in figure drawing and teaching watercolor classes to seniors. Art making is now my primary occupation.
Donna (67): I was interested in the exhibits MoMA offers. Prime Time has offered me the opportunity to try new mediums of expression and meet like-minded people.
Shelley: Getting an opportunity to discuss artwork is very satisfying. There is so much more to see after others give you their thoughtful impressions. The group leaders provide us with an ability to see the art in much greater depth.
Alice (72): Love the Sculpture Garden. Love the permanent collection. Prime Time gives me something nice to look forward to. Last week I was at MoMA Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Albert: I come to MoMA to learn more about and be exposed to art experiences I would not normally come across. Prime Time has impacted my life by exposing me to new ways of creating and viewing art, opening myself in a nonjudgmental way to art I would have dismissed in the past.
What do you think is a misconception about aging?
Irene: That you are invisible.
Donna: That people [become] useless, inflexible, and bored.
Alice: Aging does not mean getting old. I have more energy than I did 20 years ago. On a bus recently, the driver asked me to give up my seat to a senior citizen. The senior was five years younger than me! Three weeks ago when I asked for a senior discount, I was “proofed.” Still laughing about that.
What’s one thing about aging that you enjoy?
Donna: You don’t have to worry about what you will be when you grow up. You can be whatever you want.
Albert: One gets a little wiser.
Alice: Saying whatever I please!
Knowing what you know now, what’s one thing you would tell the younger you?
Irene: Do it all. Try it all. Never have regrets that you let life pass you by and now it is too late.
Alice: My life at 72 is more fun than it was at 42. I look great. I feel great. I have a sensational boyfriend. I have non-stop fun. I would tell the younger me to keep going.
Shelley: Enjoy every moment that you are going through because they are all special and help create the unique person that you are—and will become.
Albert: Plan for retirement. Preview what you think will be a worthwhile occupation in retirement.
Donna: Take more risks and don’t play life so safe.