MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — These museum visitors want answers.
“Why is it better to paint on linen than cotton?”
“How many works does the museum have?”
“What woman did Diego Rivera love the most?”
The questions keep coming, and museum guides have to be ready.
“They’re an audience that I, with admiration and respect, view as demanding,” says Ángel Eduardo Ysita Chimal, a guide at the Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL), Mexico’s national art museum.
Mar García, GPJ Mexico
Ysita is referring to senior citizens – a population that keeps museum guides on their toes. These visitors are deeply curious, Ysita explains. They don’t settle for general data or simple explanations; they want to know how a painting was created, under what circumstances, in what historical context. They stay at the museum longer than other visitors. They expect seriousness, punctuality and professionalism.
In short, they’re great museum visitors.
“I have noticed their great and legitimate interest in the collection and in the building,” Ysita says. “They perceive art and history with greater sensitivity and patience.”
These visitors are part of a free weekly program for people over 60 called “Una Cana al Arte,” which gives seniors the chance to take part in special guided tours of permanent or temporary exhibits at the museum. The program has existed for more than 20 years and sees around 30 to 50 people per session. From January 2014 to June 2018, attendance at “Una Cana” increased by 35 percent, says Verónica Jazmín Gómez Sánchez, press representative for MUNAL.
“Una Cana al Arte” is just one of the cultural and entertainment programs gaining popularity among people over 60 in Mexico, thanks to the programs’ affordability. Many of these programs are totally free for seniors.
Throughout Mexico, more seniors are attending such programs. According to government data, only 4 percent of the senior population attended cultural and entertainment events in 2009. That percentage more than doubled – to 8.3 percent – in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available.
Mar García, GPJ Mexico
In 2001, Mexico City established the “Pensión Alimentaria” program, in which seniors older than 68 can apply for a card loaded with funds for groceries, medical tests, glasses and public transportation. The card also offers discounts on hotels and restaurants. Currently, there are 525,000 beneficiaries who receive $1,209 Mexican pesos ($65) per month; the number of beneficiaries has increased by more than 60,000 since 2010.
Beneficiaries also have unique access to cultural activities.
Every month, recipients of the “Pensión Alimentaria” can participate in a free outdoor dance called Jueves de Danzón. Recipients can also go to the movies for free twice a month.
José Antonio Rodríguez Callejas is general director of the Instituto para la Atención de los Adultos Mayores de la Ciudad de México, an institute advocating for elder care. He says that urban and infrastructural planning in Mexico City has taken the senior population into account by way of ramps, elevators and free buses and trolleys for people over 60.
Such initiatives can eliminate spatial and travel barriers, but with robust cultural programming, the city is also eliminating social barriers, Rodríguez Callejas says.
Another museum besides MUNAL has bought into that idea with a long-running program for seniors.
On the first Tuesday of each month, in the museum Museo Franz Mayer, people over 60 get together for a program called “Recordar es Vivir,” which means “to remember is to live.” The program includes free cultural activities, such as festivals, guided tours and art workshops, and even a visit from a specialist doctor, who answers the group’s questions about health concerns, such as nutrition and mobility.
The program was so popular in 2016 that it had to close after it exceeded its capacity of 90 attendees. In 2017, it began accepting new members again.
Martha Pérez, who runs education initiatives at the museum, says the group has evolved since the program started. It now has a board of directors comprising seniors, who plan out the activities for each month.
“It is fundamental to achieve their direct participation, to give them tools so that they feel useful, capable, integrated and participatory,” Pérez says.
“Recordar es Vivir” participants have found a space to have fun, distract themselves and make friends.
Mar García, GPJ Mexico
María Magdaleno Robledo, 71, stopped attending events with the group because of her husband’s medical problems. However, three years ago, after her husband passed away, returning to the group helped her overcome depression.
“After he died, I went into depression, and I pushed myself to return,” Magdaleno Robledo says. “It’s beautiful because you meet people and, for a while, you forget the loneliness.”
“Political and social conditions, especially in Latin America, have made it so that these types of sectors are left to drift,” Pérez says. She explains that museums are not only places of reflection and learning but also spaces that promote friendship, leisure and socialization for everyone, including seniors.
María Bernal Montiel, 85, who has been with the group since it began in 2000, says she has found many friendships within the group, which have made her very happy. She can spend time with them outside of the museum as well.
“I like that we are all very supportive. I have met many very valuable people without whom I would be nothing,” Bernal Montiel says. “We love each other like a family.”
Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this story from Spanish.