Even Remotely, Art Creates Connections
When the pandemic began to impact our communities nearly a year ago, CommonBond’s Arts and Aging programs were forced to pause and pivot. While it took some time to navigate the logistics of translating these typically in-person arts classes to a remote setting, staff were committed to finding solutions to maintain these programs—especially since we know how great an impact creative programming for older adults can make by combatting loneliness, improving mental health, and promoting overall wellbeing and stability.
During the summer of last year, Arts and Aging Program Manager Kate Houston worked diligently, collaborating with teaching artists and creative aging organizations like Lifetime Arts and Aroha Philanthropies to share ideas around how to reimagine these critical programs.
One of the first multiple-session classes that launched remotely in October 2020 was a Watercolor Postcards workshop led by teaching artist Judy Cline. In the pilot round of the 8-week workshop, the goal was to have around 8 residents participate; however, Judy and Kate were pleasantly surprised when 15 residents from Oak Ridge Manor, Oak Terrace, and Boulevard Gardens expressed interest and signed up for the class!
At the beginning of the course, Judy assembled and delivered kits to the three CommonBond communities—each participant receiving a pack of watercolor postcards, watercolors, a brush, stamps, and a mailing list with the names and addresses of the participants (at another CommonBond community) to whom they were assigned to mail their postcard each week. Resident artists kits also included weekly instructions to create a watercolor painting on one of the postcards, write a note, and mail it to that week’s recipient.
Judy also connected weekly with each resident via phone to check in, provide insight on postcard design and watercolor technique, and answer any questions that came up during the week. “These phone calls ranged from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, and often became a conversation as well as a check-in,” Judy shared. For many residents, it became another social interaction to look forward to—whether they were eager to discuss technique and skill development, or simply wanted to connect and talk about how their week had been.
“Caring for neighbors was a theme that came up over and over again."
During these weekly conversations, Judy got to know the participating residents a little better, and residents would often share what they were up to. “Caring for neighbors was a theme that came up over and over again. Residents would tell me, ‘we’re taking food to this person, we’re doing this for this neighbor’—I was moved by these conversations with residents and the care they showed for their neighbors!”
While the workshop certainly focused on and resulted in skill development, Judy ultimately encouraged residents to have fun with the watercolor project, to really take it were they wanted—and residents did just that! Judy shared, “One resident during our weekly call told me, ‘I’m going to include a poem!’; some residents even wrote back to one another! [Participants made] amazing connections in times of disconnection.”
“People told me again and again, thank you for doing this,” Judy said. Caitlyn, an Advantage Services Coordinator from Boulevard Gardens, shared with Judy that participating residents at her site were so excited each week to look in their mailboxes and retrieve their postcards. Even though the project was a pilot, the Watercolor Postcards workshop was clearly a success—which is in huge part due to Judy’s commitment to the program and participating residents.
"While all learning can support this kind of growth, there is something about creative engagement that is truly unique."
When asked about the impact creative aging programs make in the lives of older adults, Judy shared: “I have a passionate belief in it [programming for the arts]. I believe it is truly a way that we stay alive mentally and physically; and while all learning can support this kind of growth, there is something about creative engagement that is truly unique. And I get the joy of seeing it lived out.”
We are deeply grateful to Judy, and other teaching artists who work with CommonBond residents, for their effort, commitment, and willingness to help adapt these programs to a remote setting. It really does make a tremendous impact in the lives of residents, during what has perhaps never been a more important time for connection and creativity.
Featured artist work: Betty Schilling (featured image), Nancy Eder (top right), Ruth Knight (middle left), Judy Hasert (bottom right).
Check out the Arts & Aging page to view watercolor postcards from all participating resident artists!
Visual artist and educator Judy Cline is one of the teaching artists in our Arts & Aging program. The first CommonBond class that she taught three years ago was a drawing class at Oak Terrace. In her own artistic practice, she’s drawn to painting—watercolor, in particular—because she loves color and the transparency of watercolors. “I gave myself permission to focus on watercolors a couple years ago, because that was what I was most excited about.” She loves teaching and encourages her students to be open to letting go of some amount of control and expectations, and to let the watercolors lead them. She hopes her students learn to enjoy the painting experience—and besides learning, that they have fun.
In addition to teaching art, Judy has long had a passion for working with older adults; she’s been licensed as a nursing home administrator, and she previously worked at the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging as a project manager. Now that she’s retired, she’s really enjoyed working as a teaching artist with CommonBond residents, as well as at some nursing homes and assisted living sites.
"I am so grateful and impressed that CommonBond has continued this commitment to the arts."
Since the start of the pandemic, however, her first experience teaching again was the Watercolor Postcards workshop through our Arts and Aging program. “It’s been wonderful; I am so grateful and impressed that CommonBond has continued this commitment to the arts. I think its life-giving and so important.”
Judy Cline, Watercolor Postcard