The AWE program has its origins in a faith-based ministry to nursing homes that came out of the Episcopal Church in San Francisco in 1985. The ministry organized visits to seniors and created intergenerational programs to lessen the isolation of nursing home residents. This became an independent, nondenominational nonprofit, Eldergivers, under founding Executive Director Brent Nettle.
Realizing the vast potential of the visual arts as a tool to address the challenges of aging, Brent initiated Art With Elders in 1991. The art classes started as ‘art therapy,’ then moved toward a focus on creativity and skills-building. Classes met each week and engaged residents in a way that simple visits could not. They were small enough for individual attention, but large enough to become a place where residents found a new sense of community.
The classes were soon supplemented with opportunities for participants to exhibit their work. From 1996 to 2000, Art With Elders gained prominence in the San Francisco Bay Area art scene with high profile exhibitions at the de Young Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Main Library, and the Di Rosa Preserve in Napa. AWE has since exhibited at the War Memorial Building, Rincon Center, and San Francisco International Airport.