Intergenerational Friendships Inspire Milwaukee's MacArthur 'Genius' Anne Basting

Sep 26, 2016

Every year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation honors people throughout the country with a fellowship grant of $625,000, awarded over five years. The so-called "Genius Grant" was given to 23 people this year, who were honored for their originality, insight and potential.

Credit John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Among those esteemed recipients was Anne Basting, a professor of theater at UW-Milwaukee. She is being honored for her work with aging people, particularly those with dementia and other cognitive impairments.

Basting founded an organization called TimeSlips, which uses storytelling techniques to engage people with cognitive loss by using their imagination. 

She says her love of working with aging people, oddly enough, started when she was very young. In middle school, she was having a rough time making friends. "My mom decided that since I liked art she was going to help me and put me in art classes. And it happened to be that it was me and about a dozen retired people, so it was a forlorn 13-year-old and my new friends," Basting says. 

Ever since, Basting has sought out friendships with aging people. Her work encourages young people to engage in intergenerational relationships, which she feels is important in a culture that tends to segregate people by age and ability.

"I think we have a lot of fears about aging and disability, and particularly the marriage of the two. And just coming to face with it, face-to-face with it, you lose that pretty quickly," says Basting. 

Basting has some complex feelings about the grant itself. On one hand, she is incredibly grateful to the foundation for the recognition. At the same time, since her work involves so many people working together, she feels a bit "silly" in an environment where genius is assumed to belong to individuals. 

"Everything I've been trying to say in orient is like, 'I am the sum of all my collaborative partners, and our efforts have gotten me as a spokesperson for this work to this place,'" says Basting. "I've described this feeling of the last month as like a tsunami of gratitude."