Young at Art

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By Ryan Van Cleave


“Some of the most powerful works of art have been produced by older Americans—by hands that have engaged in years of hard work, eyes that have witnessed decades of change, and hearts that have felt a lifetime of emotions. —Hillary Rodham Clinton

By 2030, the number of adults who are over 65 years old will make up 20% of the U.S. population. And let’s face it – sometimes it seems as if the majority of them live right here in Sarasota. It’s one of the things we’re most known for, after all—being a first-rate retirement destination.

Beyond world-class beaches, the other thing that comes to mind when people think of Sarasota is that we’re an arts-loving, arts-supporting, and arts-making community. Where else beyond a major city are you going to find a vibrant theater scene, a first-rate opera company, a wonderful orchestra, a premiere art and design college, and numerous art-centered community organizations?

Small wonder, then, that more and more of our seniors are making the arts a vital part of their lives. Just ask Patrick Gray, who grew up in a small, now-rusting northeastern Ohio city but has lived in Sarasota since 2003. After several careers—including working for the US Navy as a sonar technician on submarines—he’s now a fiction writer. His writing “in some ways makes me feel like a child and that’s wonderful. I’ve made new friends. I’ve entered an ever-expanding new world of magical goodness that I didn’t know even existed.” He adds that he doesn’t care about fame or fortune. He simply wants to engage with friends and family, and to “know more about who I am, to better understand who I have been, and to help guide myself into who I’ll become. That is the legacy that I want to leave to my family and friends.”

Last summer, a short story by Gray was included in one of the summer Beach Reads issues of Sarasota Scene. “Until then, I’ve never seen my work in a magazine such as you’re now holding in your hands,” he says. “It was one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve ever had.”


Learning as an art

Thanks to the educational offerings of art-centered, education-focused community organizations like Art Center Sarasota, more and more seniors will discover that same joy and sense of reward that Gray knows so well. Their Education Director, Elizabeth Goodwill, notes that the two most popular art classes they offer are mixed-media painting and watercolor painting, though their classes in photography, printmaking, and life drawing are well-received, too.

Art Center Sarasota has been serving the community since 1926. Throughout the years, novice and well-known artists have had the ability to both exhibit and sell their work. “Art classes bring together people who have a common interest,” says Goodwill, “to learn and to develop their skills with professional instructors.” Offering free access to their four galleries gives us all a chance to see innovative and diverse work from local, national, and international contemporary artists in curated and juried exhibitions.

When asked about her favorite success story, Goodwill says that she loves it when students who’ve been attending classes and workshop at Art Center Sarasota come back to tell her they’ve got their own opening in a gallery space in town or sometimes in another state.

“Their success and happiness makes my job even more fulfilling and shows the success of both the education program and the exhibition program. Art Center Sarasota provides a great service to the artists, art lovers, and the community with all of its programs.” – Elizabeth Goodwill, Education Director

Thanks to The Patterson Foundation’s initiatives such as Age-Friendly Sarasota and Aging Mastery Program—see more on those in a different article in this issue—President and CEO Debra Jacobs knows a lot about the impact the arts can have on an aging population. “Whatever our age, we can still get lost in a story,” she says. “We can smile at a melody, we can gaze at a sculpture. Arts can bring purpose—and whatever our age, our humanity is enriched through the arts.” She cites an example of the power of the arts as “when Laughter Unlimited visits the Memory Care Unit at The Pines, and the piano strikes a tune? The slumping, solitary resident smiles and taps their fingers and begins singing.”

Lesley University Dr. Racquel Stephenson’s research as a professor of Expressive Therapies and Program Coordinator for Art Therapy shows that seniors creating art can counteract isolation and depression, as well as promote self-esteem, motivation, and social connection. It’s more than just therapeutic, though, because “older adults have a high capacity for creativity because they are willing to take risks.” Taking risks can lead to powerful work that resonates with others. It can stand out from the crowd.

So join or start up a writing group as Gray has done with his peers, meeting once a month at the new Goldstein Library at Ringling College of Art and Design. Or sign up for the “Printmaking in Old Havana” workshop and tour that runs in November through Art Center Sarasota. Or participate in one of the many initiatives and programs supported by The Patterson Foundation.

Quite simply, art is part of our community and it’s part of who we are. Most important, it can change your life, as it did with Gray, who recalls a visit to the Rodin museum in Philadelphia some years back where he watched as one couple reacted to a pair of bronze hands called “Cathedral.” The woman appeared fascinated. The husband? Obviously bored. But Gray himself? “I silently cried—tears streamed down my cheeks. It was the first time I had cried since my mother died. How a simple piece of bronze could stir my emotions in that way is still a mystery to me.”

But he knows the answer. We all do. It’s the power of art.


FOR MORE INFORMATION on Art Center Sarasota please visit www.artsarasota.org or call 941.365.2032

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