A thoughtful approach to connecting Greater Trail seniors with art — and young creative counterparts — has received much praise from all involved.
Creating Connections; ArtBoxes & Art PenPals for Seniors was launched earlier this year by the VISAC Gallery. The downtown Trail nonprofit offered art supplies and instructions to seniors, along with a hand-written note and sample art piece by Kootenay Columbia students, as a tactile way to ease isolation during the ongoing pandemic.
“The ArtBoxes are fantastic! VISAC, along with sponsors, should be very proud for supplying this to local seniors,” said one thankful recipient.
“Can’t thank you enough for the wonderful weaving kit! It filled many of my hours and I’m really happy with it, enough to now continue on my own,” said another.
“These are amazing and my 95-year-old mother was so surprised and happy with her weaving one,” said an appreciative local. “She has it hanging on her wall. Thank you!”
The VISAC team worked very hard the last couple of months not only to create the two ArtBox units, but also to liaison with local schools, senior housing/organizations, and local businesses that supplied materials for the themed projects, explains VISAC director Kristen Chester.
“We had heard from input gathering that many seniors do not have the technological means to take online art classes or can feel overwhelmed by online offerings,” she said. “Our input also indicated that seniors either have a hard time allocating limited funds to art supplies or are not able to source art supplies due to stores being on back order.”
The VISAC reached out to as many local seniors as possible to ask what kind of projects would be most interesting. From the feedback, they concluded what ticked all the boxes was a ‘weaving’ project for February delivery and a ‘watercolour’ themed project for March delivery.
“VISAC was granted sufficient funding to involve local students as ‘Art PenPals,’ a great part of the project suggested by our gallery assistants” Laurie Broadhurst, VISAC volunteer, explained.
“Each month, at least six classrooms from … Rossland to Fruitvale were provided a similar, smaller art project for each theme the seniors were going to get that month. The students’ artwork also included a personal note as a gift and inspiration,” Broadhurst said.
“Seniors were encouraged to respond to their Art PenPals on cards and we facilitated several options of returning those cards.”
The weaving unit was completed last month and just over 50 per cent of seniors were able to respond to their student pen pal. The watercolour art boxes were delivered last weekend with student artwork, a watercolour postcard, included.
“There has been a terrific positive response to both the caring contact from the students and the excellent supplies provided to both classrooms and seniors,” said Broadhurst.
The project has collectively engaged over 260 students with 130 seniors and created many welcome connections.
“It has been quite an amazing and worthwhile project. I’m so proud to be a part of it,” Broadhurst said. “A big shout out to the teachers and students involved.”
In the fall of 2020, VISAC was made aware of a grant opportunity from the Le Roi Community Foundation for projects that aimed to support those affected by COVID-19 and serve vulnerable populations in Greater Trail. The VISAC team of Mena McGill (high school art student), Ellie Knox (art student), along with Broadhurst and Chester, met to talk about possible projects that would meet the gallery’s mandate and that of the grant. Out of the brainstorming session came the idea Creating Connections: Artboxes & Art Penpals for Seniors.
“So many businesses were very supportive once hearing about the project,” Chester said.
She thanks Sarah Elizabeth Fibre Works, Rossland Healthcare Auxiliary, Silverfern Framing, Rebecca Weatherford and the Beaver Valley Guides, the Rossland Museum and Discovery Centre, The Bailey Theatre, the libraries in Trail, Rossland and Fruitvale, and funding body, the Le Roi Community Foundation.