“You’ve Got Mail” – A Mixed Media Art Class
This past spring, 7 individuals from 4 different CommonBond housing communities took part in a Mixed Media: Drawing, Painting, and Collage card class called “You’ve Got Mail” led by teaching artist Courtney Miller Bellairs as part of our Arts and Aging programs. For eight weeks, participants attended class via Zoom, tuned into Courtney’s weekly office hours to ask questions about new techniques, and created personalized greeting cards which they would send to loved ones.
Each week Courtney introduced a new technique or theme, and students would design their greeting cards using the concepts explored in class. While class presented mediums and styles that were new to many of the students, Courtney said the participants were all very adventurous and willing to try new things—diving into everything from color theory, to art-making in the style of a famous artist, to collage.
Fay, a resident at Boulevard Gardens who has been participating in the Arts and Aging classes for years, found great value in trying out new techniques introduced in the Mixed Media class. “I’d never done collage before; I’d never tried to paint something like Matisse would; I’d never done a monochrome piece. It was really educational, and I use those tools every time I go to make a card,” she shared. “And because of how the class was run,
I gained a lot more confidence that I could produce something that I was willing to show someone else.”
CommonBond’s Arts & Aging classes use a sequential learning model, meaning that they’re designed to help students expand their skillset by building off of material taught the week before. One of Courtney’s goals for her students is that they develop a desire to practice even without the structure of class. For Fay, that rings true—she makes birthday cards and anniversary cards for loved ones using the skills she’s learned in the classes she’s taken over the years. “And I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback!” Fay remarked happily.
Throughout the You’ve Got Mail class, resident artists not only explored new styles and developed a sense of accomplishment based on their own growth, but they also found inspiration and support from their peers. At the beginning of each class, Courtney would share a slideshow featuring the work created by each artist based on the previous week; they would then discuss everyone’s work, ask questions about process and the story behind the card, and cheer each other on. Having this time for dialogue allowed students to learn from one another—and really witness and celebrate one another’s progress. Fay shared: “You could tell people were really putting their heart and soul into this. It wasn’t something people just cut out of a magazine and slapped on the card. … I learned from everyone else—it allowed me to try things I never would have done on my own.”
When asked about what made this course really impactful, Courtney pointed to the social connection aspect. “The class was distinctly personal and interpersonal,” Courtney shared, “and for many students, it was an opportunity to make up for some of the lost relationships and experiences we’ve had in the past year.” Because the class took place in the spring when many folks still weren’t able to see their families, the opportunity to create, connect, and share their art with both loved ones and peers was therapeutic and life-giving for many participants.
On top of that, since the class included residents from 4 different CommonBond communities, it offered a way to make new friends at a really important time. Fay shared, “The mixed media class really improved my outlook and attitude about the rest of my life. … It’s so easy to get down on yourself when you’re not doing anything, especially just coming through this terrible year—I felt [this class] was just a life-saver.”
Fay plans on participating in future Arts and Aging classes and expresses gratitude to have access to this sort of creative opportunity, acknowledging that not everyone her age does. “Most of us [residents at Boulevard Gardens] live on social security, or maybe a little 401k, so to have the opportunity to participate in something like this with all the materials paid for is huge. That’s what stops a lot of people our age in living in low income housing. … When [CommonBond] offers something like this, it is so appreciated.”
All works above were completed by Fay during the "You've Got Mail" class. See more works by other resident artists on the Arts & Aging page.
Sincere thank you to Courtney Miller Bellairs for teaching the course and helping create a space for CommonBond residents to nurture their creativity and share it with others. Check out her work here!
"Lady Slipper Collage" (left) and "Ice Cream" (right), works by Courtney Miller Bellairs
The Arts and Aging programs are made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund and a grant from Aroha Philanthropies.