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Anika Tabachnick on Creating Supportive Museum Programs –

Q&A with Anika Tabachnick, Associate of Creative Aging Programs at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

How long have you been at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art [BIMA]?
I started in October 2020 and am the first person to lead the museum’s creative aging program. Many creative aging activities were pending when I arrived. The museum was closed for most of my first year.

What is the Creative Aging Program?
“Creative Aging” is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of programs, projects and exhibits designed by and for older people. Bainbridge Island here in Washington State has a fairly large and very engaged population of people over the age of sixty-five.
This program gives them a space and integrates their voices into what is happening at BIMA.

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What does your role consist of?
I host many recurring events, including a weekly mindfulness meditation and “Look Again, a lively art discussion for people with early-stage memory loss and their care partners, and lead outreach to senior-focused organizations such as seniors’ centers and living communities. I also co-organize intergenerational exhibitions and activities, and ensure 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 comfort.

What are some of the program objectives?
I am excited about the possibility of intergenerational exchange and finding ways to incorporate this into our creative aging program. We do not age in isolation. And cross-age connections are good for everyone involved. I want to use this interaction as the basis for everything we do.

Many museums and other cultural organizations attempt to involve a wider range of communities. But my two groups, the elderly and the very young, often get lost or content with superficial activities. Just because people show up doesn’t mean they’re heard or included. They may find peace and value in the museum experience, but they may also have a lot to contribute.

Portrait of Anika Tabachnick.

Portrait of Anika Tabachnick.
Photo Derrick Hammond / Courtesy Bainbridge Island Museum of Art

What impact has Covid-19 had on the scope of your work?
One of the benefits of stepping into this role during the pandemic is that I haven’t experienced anything else in this role. What was originally meant to be an outreach effort has shifted to better serve traditionally overlooked communities within the museum itself.

Many seniors struggle with a sense of isolation, which has only been exacerbated by physical distancing mandates. The first program we restarted was mindfulness meditation, which is also one of BIMA’s oldest programs. There is a core of people who have really built a community around this event. We started meeting on Zoom, then over the summer when there was an opportunity to meet in person, the band opted to stay online. It has also expanded to include people who do not live on Bainbridge Island. Digitizing the program has therefore enabled us to create a new, larger network.

What do you look for before embarking on a project?
I like to consider how a project is designed to deal with its constituents. Institutions often create “participatory” projects but do not think about what it really feels like to participate.

I am very lucky to have the resources and the flexibility to develop new programs. Last year, I helped organize a pop-up exhibit to commemorate LGBTQ pride. It was quite different from the way we usually organize exhibitions. It wasn’t too much about individual works of art, but more about people sharing their stories through writing and visual art. As it went so well, I was given additional resources and time to organize it again this year and to intertwine it with the other work I do. I see this as an opportunity to engage different groups, support local artists, and bring teacher artists into the fold. There is so much fear that if you focus on the process rather than the product, the result will not be interpretable. But people need to see that doing these kinds of shows can create both an interesting process and a good outcome.