The Joy of Working in Arts and Aging

When people see a building with “seniors” in the name they often tend to think of a depressing place – a “warehouse where people wait to die”

This is scandalous and I have spent the last 14 years changing the fact of senior apartment buildings, while specializing in Senior Arts Buildings (or any age Arts for that matter). Now when I walk into a senior building I read an atmosphere of change.

IMG_0539Last week, unsuspecting, I closed up my office in a senior arts colony and walked into a moment that contained the essence of our work. Typically the programs are spread out over a week, but at that moment things were happening simultaneously!

Glorious singing and the sounds of violin and piano flowed out of the clubhouse door to my left. Ah yes, I thought, that would be the 3 residents being filmed for a documentary as they rehearse for their recital at the weekend.

Across the hall, the library – recently vacated by the poetry group led by a spoken word artist – was now occupied by another group.

IMG_2054_2As I passed the door, one of the writers called my name, jumped up and rapidly circumnavigated the group. Her excitement was palpable.

Sally, is a resident I know well, who participated in many of the programs I have been instrumental in developing. I knew she decided that she is a writer, and indeed she celebrated her 80th birthday by publishing a mystery novel.

She described her interview with the film-maker to me. “ He asked to see my paintings. And I told him that they are all crap!” She gave a dismissive wave of the hand, then continued”….but he persuaded me to show him, and when I pulled them out and looked at them, I realized that I was wrong – they are good, I even like most of them” and she beamed.

“Does that mean you will be painting some more? “ I asked “Oh yes!” and she happily returned to join the others deeply engrossed in crafting a story for an online interactive soap opera eventually to reach isolated people.

As I walked down the stairs, I greeted two men leaning on a banister and buck gold perform 2012surveying the street below. One of them had done well at our recent annual Olympics, and I wanted to acknowledge that, even though he doesn’t speak much English. So I said “Olympics” and held both thumbs up.

They smiled in return and his friend pointed at him and said emphatically “He is Champion!”

Music, writing, painting, winning medals, these themes weaving in and around that moment in time brought me such a sense of joy. A feeling of “This is IT!”

Others can talk about the value of arts in aging in the abstract but I have the privilege of experiencing the effects of our work. And it feels so good. As I write, the memory of that day flows through me like the music that echoed through the hallways of that building.

To see the extraordinary documentary by Russ Haan go to https://vimeo.com/142024807

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