FORT WORTH -- The Amon Carter Museum has long cultivated a wide and deep variety of programs for school-age children and schoolteachers, and it has recently discovered that seniors want the same exposure to American art.
Inspired by a conversation with a pastor in the Stop Six neighborhood, the museum's staff developed an outreach program for senior citizens in his community, only to have other senior centers demand the same five-week art appreciation course.
"This wasn't something we had on our radar at all," said Stacy Fuller, the museum's education director. "But to have someone in the community suggest this outreach, have other people in the community say they want it, too, and see our docents so excited about the program has made me so proud."
Senior centers are always looking for interesting and entertaining programs for those 60 and older, many of whom live alone and are vulnerable to isolation and boredom.
In the process, the Amon Carter Museum staff learned that many people in Tarrant County, particularly those of modest means, don't go to museums or have any idea what's displayed inside its galleries. If people know of the museum, most don't know that admission is free.
"We reach people who have grown up going to museums, and we reach a lot of families across the spectrum," said Nancy Strickland, who manages the museum's volunteer docents. "We don't reach nearly as many adults across the whole community. This is helping to do that."
Delma Rabb-Hunter, 79, a retired school employee who lives in Como, is grateful for the program because it has rekindled an interest she had forgotten.
"We all were introduced to art when we were children in school, but then we get busy with work and children," she said. "To be introduced again to art is very exciting."
In the last five months, seniors in Stop Six, White Settlement, central Arlington and Como have participated. Seniors in the Handley and Meadowbrook neighborhood and Mansfield are scheduled next.
Word-of-mouth advertising among senior center directors continues to provide future dates, long past the point the museum thought probable.
"I just got a phone call from the director of Forest Hill," said Debbie Duke, director of the Como Senior Center. "I think it will keep spreading. I know I will recommend it."
The genesis of the program was a conversation between Fuller and the Rev. Bruce D. Datcher, pastor of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church and director of the Brighter Outlook Community Center adjoining it.
"I just thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to bring seniors from an underserved community like Stop Six to the Amon Carter and for the Amon Carter to visit our facilities and allow them all to interact," Datcher said.
"It may sound callous, but there are a lot of people who have never seen the Amon Carter and never understood the great art in our city. They think the museum has to have a certain clientele. I have visited the museum on several occasions and thought our seniors would have fun with the arts."
Unlike the frequent speeches or presentations museum staffers deliver to community groups, a longer program for seniors was developed "to build a lasting relationship," Strickland said.
With the help of its volunteer docents, the education staff built a five-week program, walking the seniors through Western art, landscape painting, portraiture, abstract art and photography. At the end, the museum invites them all to the museum for a guided tour.
The docents use many of the museum's iconic pieces in their slide presentation -- In Without Knocking by Charles M. Russell, The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole, Dark Mesa With Pink Sky by Georgia O'Keeffe, The Freedman sculpture by John Quincy Adams Ward, American Indian Symbols by Marsden Hartley and a photographic portrait of Geronimo by Edward Curtis.
Because they didn't want to just lecture, the presenters include time for the seniors to sketch landscapes, make self-portrait collages and bring old photographs to talk about the styles of the era. Docents also give the seniors posters of the art they've been talking about.
Pat Hamilton, who retired last year from working in cafeterias for the Fort Worth school district, said she is looking forward to a tour of the Amon Carter Museum this summer.
"I've never been," she said. "I was always so busy when I was working to go. But now that I'm retired, it's time to go."
Not coincidentally, the museum is in the middle of a $3.8 million fundraising campaign to expand its education and outreach programs. The campaign's success so far is the only reason the museum could respond to Datcher's proposal.
"We don't have extra pools of money to start these programs," Fuller said. "In the past, we would have to wait for a new budget cycle or go find funding sources outside to start a program like this."
Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547