Calgary

Northeast Calgary art program builds connections among diverse seniors

A program in northeast Calgary is using art to bring seniors from different backgrounds and cultures together, helping to fight social isolation, while boosting creativity and building a sense of community.

Project bridging language and cultural divides through art

Vidya Richardson joins a room full of seniors at Village Square Leisure Centre in Calgary to try her hand at art and connect with others in her community. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A program in northeast Calgary is using art to bring seniors from different backgrounds, cultures and economic groups together, helping to fight social isolation, while boosting creativity and building a sense of community.

The eight-week program, called Project Inspire, gives seniors all the materials and space they need to try their hand at creating artworks while getting to know each other and discuss issues around aging.

It runs at Village Square Leisure Centre and 1000 Voices in the northeast, and in Bowness in the northwest.

"We are on this earth for a short time, not for a long time so take every opportunity and improve yourself," said Vidya Richardson, while carefully painting a life-size abstract self portrait at Village Square Leisure Centre in the city's northeast.

Seniors try their hand at life-sized self portraits that tell their own stories at Village Square Leisure Centre in northeast Calgary. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"It gets me out and learning is a part of life. As old as I am, I still enjoy learning," said Richardson. "If you're doing things you're not thinking of something bad. Seniors have to be busy so they don't get isolated or depressed," she said.

In some sessions the participants are nearly all immigrants, from very different backgrounds.

"We had one lady come here who did not speak English at all," said Jenna Pothier, a community social worker with the City of Calgary, a partner in the project.

"Because art is such a unique language she was able to participate and tell different stories using art without being able to communicate in English with her fellow participants," said Pothier.

Other participants include Bonnie Hollens, who has lots of spare time after taking a forced retirement from her oil and gas job.

"I'd done art throughout my life but didn't get a whole lot of time to do it while I was working. Also, just the camaraderie of other people, hearing their personal stories, their art stories, it's good," said Hollens.

Dave Serrao with the LINKages Society of Alberta says the eight-week project is as much about building relationships than it is about art. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The program is so successful there's a waiting list to take part. Funding is in place for the project to run again early in 2020.

"The journey of the eight weeks and sharing with the other people is almost a bigger deal for everybody to be close as it is to do the art, so that eight-week period is essential," said Dave Serrao with the LINKages Society of Alberta, another partner.

Serrao says as relationships grow, creativity blossoms and seniors end up wanting to come back again.

He says the project is growing and growing and could even expand next year.

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