“It’s really a special moment for me when someone has an ‘aha’ moment,” said Sage Wheeler, one of the creative facilitators at United Active Living’s Art Studios. “Older adults are capable of so much more than what society expects of them.”
Sage is one of the professional artists who work 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.
“The interesting thing about getting older is that we have more stories to tell,” said Jeff Chan, creative facilitator. “This gives everyone a different entry point into their art. Some residents are attracted to the art studios because they are accomplished artists, while others might have been interested in art in their early life, put it on the back burner for various reasons and now they are coming back to it. It’s our job to open that doorway.”
“Clay is a perfect example of an art form that can be interpreted so many ways,” said Amy Bouchard, a creative facilitator who sees the excitement in residents each time she introduces this versatile medium. “It might start with a class where we make a bowl using coils or slabs but as people become more proficient we can move to other options such as the potters wheel. It’s wonderful to see so many budding artists at a later point in life!”
United’s creative philosophy is driven by the residents.
“We try to cater to the individual, and create programs that draw on the resident’s interests, skills and experience,” said Cailey Massey, creative facilitator. “Our most successful programs are those that are inspired by United residents.”
An example of this is the Coffee, Tea and Poetry program. It’s designed to include everyone regardless of experience. “Some are very keen to write poetry, while others simply enjoy listening, or are drawn to the discussion of poetry,” said Cailey. “Often the poems are interpreted into visual works in the art studio. We work with the residents to find a medium that best expresses their written words.”
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.
While the arts can be solitary, Amy notes that forming a community is one of the benefits. “We don’t usually create just one sculpture or bowl and go through the entire process of drying it, glazing, firing and painting. In most cases, we work with a group of people who become fast friends because they are going through a new experience together.”
“The residents have taught me to always keep learning,” said Amy. “Age isn’t a barrier and in fact is helpful in lending life experience to the creative process. My advice? Keep going. Get involved!”
Residents may be unsure of themselves when trying something new, but the facilitators and other residents provide a supportive atmosphere where experimentation is encouraged. “A physical limitation may keep someone from expressing themselves artistically, but together we find unique ways to overcome those obstacles and even use them to fuel their practice,” said Cailey.
“The art studio is more about building relationships so that we can personalize the experience for residents,” said Jeff. “Creating art is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It’s about the freedom to express, and once people start on that path, the studio becomes a community that supports each other without judgement. In art, there are no wrong answers.”
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