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TimeSlips Project Collects Older Adults' Answers To 'Beautiful Questions' To Create Art In Milwaukee

Checking the exercise plan. Senior man at gym using smart phone. Close up. Focus is on hands.
Milwaukee nonprofit TimeSlips is collecting responses to thought-provoking questions from elderly people for their newest project, Beautiful Questions.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 24% of people over the age of 65 not living in community care settings were found to be socially isolated — which according to CDC is a serious health risk that increases the chance of developing dementia or other serious medical conditions.

Milwaukee-based nonprofit TimeSlips works to creatively engage aging populations and help reduce isolation. When the COVID-19 pandemic began forcing people, especially older people at higher risk, into further isolation, TimeSlips’ founder and lead creative strategist Anne Basting says she felt prepared to tackle the challenge.

“When the pandemic hit, we’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, we know what to do,'" she says.

The organization leaned on a project it had created called Tele-Stories, which paired artists with elders for phone conversations that go beyond a simple wellness check and fostered relationships. At the end of conversations, the artist then takes their experience and creates a work of art that can be shared with the elder and with others.

“The older adults who participated in the calls, they reduced loneliness by 41% [the adults] reported and among the artists, it was 60%. You know everyone was isolated at the time and that was compared to reducing it by 23% just with regular well checks,” says Basting.

Tele-Stories program manager Sam Goodrich says they had artists of all kinds and from across Milwaukee participate.

Beautiful Question Voicemail Response #1
Answer to the question, what is the most beautiful sound in the world?

“We had dancers to poets to yoga teachers to musicians to muralists, jewelry makers, every different kind of artist you can imagine,” says Goodrich.

Artists in the Tele-Stories program used what TimeSlips calls Beautiful Questions to create deeper conversations. These are questions, like “What is the most beautiful sound in your home?” or “How do you make a stranger feel welcome to your community?,” that don’t have short answers and lead to larger conversations.

“In this pandemic, we’re used to hearing about vulnerable older people and isolation and while that is a concern, these Beautiful Questions are also designed to open up older adults as more than that,” says Basting.

TimeSlips is now working on a new project to combine the Beautiful Questions with art. The organization is reaching out through wellness checks and meal delivery services like Meals on Wheel to elders with questions and a phone number.

Beautiful Question Voicemail Response #2
Answer to the question, where would you like to go?

“They receive the questions and there’s a number on the bottom so they can call into a voicemail, leave their response and then an artist calls them back and invites them to a group telephone workshop where they sort of reimagine these questions even further,” explains Goodrich.

In June, the three artists working on the Beautiful Questions Project will create a work of public art in Milwaukee incorporating the voicemails and group sessions.

Goodrich invites any interested elder to call in, using the questions and phone number listed on the TimeSlips website. She also says that all people can use Beautiful Questions to create deeper conversations in their life.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.