As part of a new initiative of the Department for the Aging and the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Space for Art Residency program seeks to connect artists and senior citizens in Senior Centers throughout New York City. The Queens Council on the Arts paired Híbridos Collective* with the Ridgewood Older Adult Centerin Queens. During six months, we provided art workshops that opened different opportunities for interactions. In designing each workshop, we decided to engage the participants by incorporating writing and storytelling into the visual art aspect of the workshops.
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. Then, we explored memory and place with the use of 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. Also, we handed them disposable cameras to capture snapshots of their everyday life. Finally, they experimented with watercolor as a free-form expression.
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.