United’s Art Studios: Touching Our Creative Side

“Creativity is important at all times in our lives,” said Sage Wheeler, a creative facilitator at United Active Living. “I’d call it a function of being human. So accessing our deeper creative selves can be healing. It’s something I think we could all use more of, but for older adults it can be a vital addition to their experience during a time of significant life changes.

Resident Jim Dolph with an ocean painting
Resident Jim Dolph with an ocean painting

Sage recalls a workshop that the studio did on artist Maud Lewis, who became successful despite lifelong rheumatoid arthritis. “Using artists like Maud gives a framework for a more expansive way of looking at art. It’s not about rendering a tree so it is perfect, but taking our rich inner lives and expressing them through art. It reminds me of one of our artists, Jim Dolph, whose artwork is focused so much on happiness and humour. He went from trying to recreate images in realistic detail to experimenting with impressionist styles and changing subject matter.”

Sage is one of the professional artists who works with residents to introduce them to the world of art, and open creative channels that many aren’t aware of. The facilitators see first hand that age isn’t a barrier to creativity.

“Quite often people tell us they aren’t artistic, therefore they don’t feel comfortable coming down to the studio,” said creative facilitator Maddison Klein. “Most people who have spent their lives working in other fields have always wanted to explore their creative side, but have never had the time. The most rewarding moments for me occur when people realize they don’t have to be good at art right away in order to be a part of the studio and have fun. As soon as our residents decide to ignore their hesitations and break that initial barrier of uncertainty, they realize that they can, in fact, make art!”

Jeff Chan and resident Al Gething in the Fish Creek art studio
Jeff Chan and resident Al Gething in the Fish Creek art studio

United’s Fish Creek community opened in December, 2015, with the studio quickly becoming a focal point for the residents. “Since then we have seen the community grow in all aspects, and the art studio is no exception,” said Jeff Chan, creative facilitator. “It has become a staple of the community and a social hub for interaction.  We see all people of varying backgrounds come through, with limited to extensive backgrounds in the arts.  No matter their previous experience, each participant equally creates and contributes to the community.”

“In the art studio, perfection is outdated, messy lines are cool, and mistakes are master pieces,” said Lulu Souraya, a creative facilitator who sees the excitement in residents each time she introduces them to clay.  “We strive to communicate the importance of being free through art and to recognize that it is limitless. Clay, as well other mediums, allows that freedom. Whether it is hand built or thrown off the wheel, there is a sense of fulfilment and comfort that it creates.  It is fascinating how sharing ideas and new techniques can trigger residents who have never used clay before, to try it for the first time. I am enlightened by the positive energy and engagement in the clay workshops and hope to inspire others to explore the world of ceramics.” 

United’s creative philosophy is driven by the residents. United caters to the individual and creates programs that draw on the residents’ interests, skills and experience. The most successful programs are those that are inspired by residents.

The studios in both Garrison Green and Fish Creek communities are open 24 hours, which allows the residents to work on projects whenever the muse strikes. Those who are new to painting or sculpture can often be seen on their own, or working alongside new-found friends.

Residents may be unsure of themselves when trying something new, but the facilitators and other residents provide a supportive atmosphere where experimentation is encouraged.

“It isn’t necessarily about what somebody pursues creatively, but that they are pursuing something,” said Sage. “We offer a wide range of options—painting, ceramics, poetry, writing, music, collage—because different people have different interests. It creates an atmosphere of non-judgmental exploration, which is so important to give everyone the permission to create.”

“The creation of art allows for one to delve deeper into their personal lives and spark conversations,” said Jeff. “Through art we are able  open up a channel for communication that may have not existed otherwise.  The studio is a safe place for anyone to explore these avenues and share their ideas. All the artwork produced is unique and we strive to showcase that.”

Photos by United Active Living, video by Sherana Productions

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To learn more about life at United Active Living, watch this short video.