Vermont Arts Council

Successful Aging: Wisdom in Our Communities

When Susan Rosano was laid off from her job years ago as an expressive arts therapist for hospice patients, being unable to land another job took her by surprise.

“I’m the kind of person who never, ever had a problem finding a job, and so I realized it had to be because of my age at the time,” she said. Rosano was 55.

Now in her 60s, Rosano, who lives in Guilford, hopes to change minds about the contributions people can make as they age.

To do just that, drawing on her more than 20 years as a teaching artist primarily with aging populations, Rosano has created Wisdom in Our Community, a program to help seniors connect to their life histories using composition and visual arts to tell their stories, while making the community aware of the importance of seniors, their knowledge and historic pasts.

One of the program’s activities is the life path project where the participant creates a visual map of significant life events. Participants can also create a personal history shadow box to display a photo along with meaningful objects, or they can compose a story for display on a poster along with visual elements. Along the way, a person trained to use the curriculum helps guide the activity by asking thoughtful questions and by close listening.

Rosano described working with a World War II veteran who had never shared with anyone terrifying details of his being on a ship in the Pacific that was bombed during the war. Slowly over time, working with Rosano, he was able to tell the story through art and composition.

Susan Rosano seen from the neck up holding a crafted box filled with mementos.
Teaching artist Susan Rosano holds a Personal History Shadow Box, created with a World War II veteran as a part of Rosano’s healing arts program for seniors.

“No matter who you are or what you’ve done in your life, everyone’s done good things, maybe mixed with bad, but good things. And this is really going to concentrate on the positive aspects of what you’ve done in your life, although you can also write about tragedies or things that were negative that happened to you. And in some way, that’s a great release for that kind of stuff too, to get it on paper,” Rosano said.

While working in a Connecticut hospice program, Rosano brought artwork done by hospice patients to many galleries in a show called Completing the Journey: The Art of Hospice, which traveled around the state for two years.

“Those who saw the show were deeply moved, even to tears, by what they were experiencing through the artwork and poetic stories,” Rosano explained. “By seeing all this work, we are learning how deep the wisdom in our communities extends. We usually don’t come in contact with these histories in such depth.”

The Wisdom in Our Community program culminates in exhibiting the work in a local art gallery.

“There is a very deep vein of wisdom in our communities,” Rosano said. “My goal is to transform negative ideas about aging in our culture into positive beliefs about the strength, wisdom and contributions of senior citizens to their communities by documenting their personal histories through visual arts and storytelling, then exhibiting the results at a public venue.”

In November, Rosano was one of 25 individuals selected as a 2021-2022 Creative Community Fellow: New England to help develop her program. The 10-month fellowship from National Arts Strategies includes a $10,000 stipend to help support art-based projects that drive positive change in New England communities.

Other Vermont artists named 2021-2022 fellows include Ashley Betton of Whiting; Eve Jacobs-Carnahan of Montpelier; Morgan Leichter-Saxby of Bellows Falls; and Zeph Lodestone of Burlington.

A mosaic artist, Rosano also contributed art activities in the Central Vermont Council on Aging’s Creative Care Kit project and is listed on the Council’s Creative Aging Teaching Artist Roster.

Visit the Council’s website for more information about our creative aging programming and resources.

View Susan Rosano’s Creative Ground profile.
Visit Susan Rosano’s website.