Week 3:
Elderwise Outreach Programming


Cornell Fellow in Creative Aging

Frye Art Museum, Creative Aging Programs | Seattle, Washington

November 17, 2019

It was a busy third week over here at the Frye.  My time as an intern was filled with everything from meetings to cutting up apples and making coffee.  Thanks to a connection made by my direct supervisor, I was also able to aid in programming put on by Elderwise.

Elderwise is a wonderful organization that offers thoughtful and joyful engagement to older adults living with dementia.  Elderwise offers both adult day programming as well as outreach programming that is done in care communities across Seattle.  I was given the opportunity to shadow one of the Elderwise Outreach Programs and work alongside Mollia Jensen, the program director for Elderwise.  Specifically, I assisted Mollia with a much-loved watercolor class provided to Skyline, an older adult care community in close proximity to the Frye.

I was tasked with helping Mollia to set out the paints, distribute brushes, and the like.  Most fun of all, I was told to create a ‘visual poem of autumn’ through the use of foraged plant material that Mollia had collected the day before.  My colorful display of rosemary and dried lilies was placed in the center of the table to be used as a still life for participants to take inspiration from.  Soon adults living in Skyline began flooding into the room with their care partners and took a seat.  The prompt of ‘creating your own visual poem of autumn’ was introduced and within moments brushes were being dipped into paint.

 

Every participant created their own glorious nod to autumn. Photo credited to the Elderwise Outreach Program.

It was lovely to watch how Mollia interacted with participants.  I had asked her prior to everyone’s arrival how much she recommended speaking with people and commenting on their creations.  In my experience with utilizing Visual Thinking Strategies it is important to offer validation through recognition and observation.  For example, telling someone “I see that you’ve really explored with the color yellow” or “wow these three triangles fit the piece of paper in a lovely way”.  By admiring a work and looking at its layers it offers validation to the artist.  However, as Mollia explained to me, this verbal exchange between you and the participant is something that needs to be felt out more in the moment.  With older adults who have more advanced dementia there is a greater chance of sparking agitation rather than an enjoyed dialogue.  Mollia waited until about half way through the program to start making comments about each person’s piece.  Every statement she made to participants was so genuine and spoken with love.  Her ability to connect with this population and medium is very clear.

Awhile into the Elderwise programming, I was offered to sit down and paint at one of the empty seats.  It was in that moment when there was a blank white sheet in front of me and paint to my right that I was struck by the courage it takes to participate in art engagement programming, for those with and without memory care needs.  Sitting with just yourself and your creativity can feel really vulnerable.  With that said, I realized how monumental it could be for care partners to participate as well.  By having patient and care partner creating side by side, it takes away any sense of hierarchy and fosters a feeling of safety.  There was a patient/care partner dyad at the table who served as a beautiful example to this point.  They are pictured below.

Pictured is a woman living at Skyline and her care partner, both positioned by their watercolor masterpieces created during the Elderwise programming. Photo credited to the Elderwise Outreach Program.

Exploring this program was a great opportunity for me to directly experience creative engagement.  I plan to shadow this program at Skyline again two more times while I’m in Seattle, as well as participate in some of their upcoming adult day programming.  A huge thank you to Mollia, Elderwise, Skyline, and all participants who welcomed me into this programming.  For more information on Elderwise and their involvement within the community, please visit: http://www.elderwise.org.

Outside of the internship this week, I was delightfully introduced to the unique Gas Works Park.  Formerly the site for Seattle Gas Light Company’s gasification plant, this hidden gem appears to be straight out of a science fiction fantasy.  The city of Seattle bought the plant for park purposes in the early 60’s.  Gas Works Park incorporates numerous pieces of the old plant, with some pieces standing as ruins while others have been reconditioned, painted, and incorporated into a children’s play structure.  It is easily the strangest park I have ever been to.  What an interesting juxtaposition to see large, industrial, man-made structures surrounded abundantly by green grass, lounging couples having a picnic, and giggling children.

An afternoon picnic at Gas Works Park.
I’m soaking up every bit of plant love that I can while I’m here, which means I absolutely had to sit in this little vine covered alcove.

Olivia Lohmann

Olivia is a psychology major and art history minor from Houghton, Michigan.