Were Still Here
We're Still Here

Thu, Apr 25, 2019

How We Transformed 186 Seniors & Advocates into Exhibition Designers

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There’s an invisible epidemic on the rise in Santa Cruz County’s senior population. And it’s something you may have felt before, too.

Loneliness and social isolation affect 1 in 3 seniors in Santa Cruz County. Many seniors contact just one person a week; some said they see a visitor less than once a month. Because of this, people 60 years and older who reported feeling lonely saw a 45% increase in risk of death.*

We’re Still Here: Stories of Seniors and Social Isolation sheds light on this local crisis and gives visitors the tools to help. It also shares solutions to loneliness from different cultures and families around the world.

It’s not your typical exhibition; we partnered with over 180 seniors, advocates, and organizations to create this show from scratch.

Their Story, Told Their Way

To tell this story, we used a simple– but non-traditional– strategy: give seniors the power to design this exhibition themselves.

For many museums, this isn’t how exhibition design operates. Typically, there is strict curatorial control over decisions big and small, from the themes of the exhibition to the title itself.

Instead, We’re Still Here: Stories of Seniors and Social Isolation (a title brainstormed by the group) was a fiercely democratic process.

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Last September, the MAH reinvigorated the Creative Community Committee (C3), an action-oriented gathering of 186 seniors, advocates, and organizations that live this issue every day.

“Thank you so much for the chance for us seniors to express ourselves and participate in the exhibition. Thank you again for your insight and courage to create this piece of history, showcase Seniors, the forgotten people.”

- Gina Tompkins, Senior, Foster Grandparent, and Co-Creator of We’re Still Here

Over the course of seven months, the group brainstormed big ideas, worked with local artists to creatively articulate the issues, and talked about ways the public can help. Every meeting kicked off with a room full of passionate people opening up about their day-to-day reality.

This was the second incarnation of C3 for this purpose; the first was in the 2017 exhibition Lost Childhoods: Voices of Santa Cruz County Foster Youth and the Foster Youth Museum which gathered 100 voices from the local foster youth community for an exhibition of similar structure. After Lost Childhoods opened, we even released a toolkit to share with other museums around the world who want to create a community issue exhibition themselves.

We’re Still Here is open through the end of 2019; come by today and experience the powerful stories told by Santa Cruz seniors.

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