Story: Exploring our Mark
After 10 weeks of developing their artistic skills through classes, the residents of Riverview Apartments showcased their work at “Exploring Our Mark,” an art exhibition hosted at the Schmidt Artist Lofts in St. Paul. The classes and exhibit were part of a partnership between CommonBond Communities and EngAGE, a nonprofit that provides free arts, wellness, and community building programs for seniors living in affordable housing communities. The EngAGE mission is to empower people—intellectually, creatively and emotionally—to do what they do best for the rest of their lives, and to help transform housing communities into vibrant centers of learning, wellness, and creativity.
"...with this class and the art, I’ve learned to just do what I like and feel.”
Seniors at Riverview participated in drawing classes taught by Shannon Brunette, co-founder of The Drawing Project, a Twin Cities-based nomadic arts programming organization. The classes allowed residents to experiment with multiple mediums, including watercolor, fabrics, sketches, and more. The residents who participated in these classes came from a diverse array of backgrounds, and few ever envisioned themselves as artists. “I’ve been interested in drawing off and on my whole life, but I never thought it was something I was especially good at,” explained Cecilia Evans, a resident artist. However, the class and exhibition inspired many residents to continue studying and creating art. “I always thought of myself as a writer,” Cecilia said, “and I wanted to go back for my Masters for Creative Writing. After this class though, the art has taken over and I’m considering an MFA in Visual Studies.”
Another resident, Jackie Sterling, has coordinated a display of her work at a local coffee shop. “I am really excited about it!” Jackie exclaimed. “People get nervous about sharing their art and wonder if it’s ‘good enough.’ That’s not what it’s about, though. It’s all about what people can relate to.”
Those who attended the gallery—staff and community members alike—were amazed by the creativity and talent on display. “The exhibit was amazing,” Jackie said, “I walked in and thought ‘wow, this is a true art gallery.'” One of the most large-scale and central displays was a collaborative piece the residents created together. “We would each sit down and draw whatever came to mind. Then, we would switch seats and add on to what someone else had drawn. Eventually, it became this amazing piece that we had all contributed to!” recalled Cecilia. From flowers to fish to abstract patterns, the project represented the creativity of each resident, as well as how they saw themselves come together and grow during the class. “I’m the kind of person who wants to plan everything out,” said another resident, “but with this class and the art, I’ve learned to just do what I like and feel.”
This program and the gallery were an opportunity for residents to not only learn and create but for CommonBond staff and community attendees to celebrate the wonderful talents that residents share when given the tools and opportunity to do so. “I don’t think people understand how rich of an environment this can be,” said Jackie. “Providing a chance to create art right where we live is a true gift.” Cecilia also asserted that this program goes beyond art; “It’s breaking stereotypes about people our age,” she explained. “We want to, and are able to, learn and create. This program was so positive, and it really inspired us.” CommonBond is beyond grateful to EngAGE for their partnership and excellence in fostering a place for residents to explore, learn, and continue building their best lives.