Breaking down barriers for seniors through art and intergenerational discussion.
There can be a tendency to get stuck in a circle, predominantly showing art within an established art community, promoting work to, and getting feedback from within that small and comfortable space. Engaging in a dialogue about art, its creation and its reception, is an important aspect of learning and growing for any artist, especially the student artist. Art is meant to impact society at large. What other communities can enrich our conversations about art? What about reaching out to senior citizens about art? What other communities can we learn from through art discussions?
The transformative nature of art makes it an important tool for life-long learning, self-expression and ultimately a deep sense of self-fulfillment. Our aging population often gets overlooked by younger generations of art makers. Not only can a conversation about art enrich seniors’ lives, but ours as well, as we learn from their wisdom and wealth of experiences. In order to engage and recognize this potential we need to challenge generational stereotypes and fight unintentional agism by fostering opportunities for intergenerational discussion and collaboration.
Carly Greene (’12 BFA) is the resident artist at River Ridge Seniors Community. Her passion for her work, and care for the Seniors she works with is apparent from the first moment you speak with her, and is in fact infectious. It is impossible not to see creative sparks when she speaks about her art and work. On December 17th 2013, she brought a group of seniors to view the sculpture show – The Book as Weapon of Change – and spoke with some of the participating artists about their work.
Left to right: Darshan Gill, Tiffany Robertson, Jim Hardy, Gerry Webb, Cayley Lux, Kirsty Temleton-Davidge, Agnieszka Koziarz and Shirley Parker
As an undergraduate student, Carly focused on sculpture. She was looking for job opportunities in arts establishments when she came across the Studio Facilitator position for River Ridge’s open studio program. The program was created by Jeff Nachtigall, the Artistic Director for United Active Living Inc. His philosophy – which has been adopted in all of the seniors communities under United Active Living, including River Ridge, “promotes creative engagement and life-long learning for seniors who live in their communities.” Despite initial wariness given her lack of experience working with seniors and facilitating programs, Carly was drawn to the open approach to art making which was in-line with the way she worked in her own studio practice.
The passion you have for the seniors and their art experience is very evident. Can you tell me a few of the things you’ve learned from working at River Ridge? Or any revelations or experiences you’ve had that worked to ignite this passion?
Working in the Open Studio at River Ridge has given me a new perspective on why we create art, and the role that it plays in the broader community, not just in institutions like the university or galleries.
It is very affirming to see people working in the studio who may have never touched a paintbrush or primed a canvas in their lives, start experimenting with their creative potential and making discoveries. There are no structured classes, the studio is an open, peer-environment that encourages experimentation, collaboration, and critical engagement. This constantly pushes not only the residents who take part in the studio but also myself, and other people living and working in the community to question what art and art making means to us.
Shirley Parker exploring “Requiem For Redundancy” while artist Kirsty Templeton-Davidge looks on.
The spontaneity and flexibility with which they approach the creative process is refreshing, after years of formal training I tend to over think things and sometimes get in my own way, but they don’t, and it has really brought flexibility back into my practice so that I am making discoveries right alongside the residents.
Working with this demographic especially has shown me the enduring effect that being creative has on us at all stages of life.
Foreground: Gerry Webb posing a question. Background: Pierce Beisel, Mary Goode and Cayley Lux
What advice do you have for other artists who are in school or who have just graduated in regards to intergenerational conversation/discussion? For example, how can artists engage, help, and work with seniors?
Although the U of A is a wonderful place to study and there is a lot of great critical discussion, it is mostly with other artists, or academics, or people who are somehow involved in the art community in a professional way; it is extremely beneficial and important, but it can also become a very closed environment. I was lucky to have some opportunities while I was still a student to take part in public art projects and was able to engage with people outside of that small community of artists; it was really eye opening for me to see what they valued in art and how it related to what I was doing. I started to realize that I can’t just make art that appeals to other artists but I had to make art that would have some kind of relevance for the general public.
I think that we have a responsibility as artists to reach as many people as we can and try and get them to consider something in a new way. So I guess my advice for artists who are either in school or just starting out is to find a way to engage with people who don’t consider themselves “artists” and see if you can find a way to make art important to them. Don’t only look towards finding a job in a gallery or an art organization, keep an open mind and look in places that you may have never thought of. Try and identify where your role as an artist would be most beneficial to a community you care about and find a way of making yourself and your ideas an asset to that community.
We have an aging population, but that means that we have a whole group of people with an amazing amount of perspective and life experience to draw from. These are people who should be making and talking about art!
It was really great to see the students and seniors take part in meaningful discussion and I think it benefited both groups to get different perspectives about the work. So look for volunteer opportunities and keep your ear to the ground for positions becoming available in seniors communities and long-term care facilities. Promote yourself and find your own way in.
As artists we have to be a bit entrepreneurial; Don’t be afraid to come up with your own ideas for how you and your skill set can benefit a community and pitch it to places you are interested in rather than just waiting for opportunities to present themselves.
Learn more about the type of transformative work Carly Greene does under Jeff Natchtigall’s open studio philosophy by checking out his TEDx talk “Raw Vision – The Power of Art in Health Care”. As well as the short NFB film “A Year at Sherbrooke” and Jeff’s studio blog: www.insiderstudio.com .
Carly Greene’s work and CV can be found on her website: www.carlygreene.com
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