SPARC: Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide
Voices from Ridgewood: Our Story through Art-making

Based on my experience working at a retirement home, where my family currently works and resides, I decided to apply to the Space for Art Residency program sponsored by the Queens Council on the Arts, the Department for the Aging, and the Department of Cultural Affairs where artists are matched with local senior centers to provide art workshops.  My partner and fellow artist Carlos Martinez and I provided art workshops at the Ridgewood Older Adult Center in Queens for six months.  In designing each workshop, we decided to engage the participants by incorporating writing and storytelling into the visual art aspect of the workshops.

Space for Art: Voices from Ridgewood from Beatriz Gil on Vimeo.

We began our workshop asking participants: what story do you want to tell?  By way of introduction, we created identity silhouettes to share our origins, interests and passions using collage. Each participant had their profile traced on a piece of paper in order to create a silhouette and then took magazine clippings, drawings, words, sentences, paragraphs, and glitter glue to tell their story of how they came to Queens.  A silhouette drawing could not illustrate the complex identity of each individual, but it gave us insight into their lives.  The next month we explored memory and place using story-mapping, a form of storytelling tied to a specific place.  Each participant created a map of some place they lived in childhood or a chronology of major life events.  We also took portraits, which included a memorable call out quote of their own.  We handed them disposable cameras to take photos of their everyday life.  The last month we experimented with watercolor.

A challenge we did not fully anticipate was working through the confidence issues that people can have in relationship to art.  We coached each of the participants to let go of the assumption that they needed to be artists in order to pick up a paintbrush or disposable camera.   Our goal was to create a space were older adults could express themselves and tell a part of their life story through various art forms: writing, collage-making, drawing, photography and watercolor.  In the end, their stories made us reflect on aging, elder care, solitude, loss, memory and finding community.