Some people consider retirement to be the end of a journey. Others know better.
At Space One Eleven, “Art in the Making” is a new series of classes challenging the idea that people in the commonly-called “senior” community have nothing left to offer.
The classes are a part of a larger initiative called “Seeding Vitality Arts,” which was created by Minnesota-based Aroha Philanthropies. SOE is one of 15 organizations chosen to take part in the initiative, which was originally called “Seeding Artful Aging.”
“One of the reasons Aroha developed the program is because they recognized that people in this age group… have time on their hands,” said SOE’s Director of Programs Cheryl Lewis. “They recognize that people in this age group have a lot of experience to bring to the table and they have a lot of gifts and talents left.”
The program is also designed to challenge preconceived ideas. “I think it’s also addressing another one of the ‘isms’, like ageism,” said SOE’s CEO Peter Prinz. He explained that they want to de-emphasize common terminology in favor of phrases like “55 and better,” which focus on the knowledge and experience of people in the demographic.
Currently, the gallery is offering two classes which began in May and will run through the end of June. Each class consists of one two-hour session once a week. Martha Ann Doyal, who taught art at Pelham High School for ten years before moving to the middle school, is teaching an Introduction to drawing.
Doyal noted that, while high school students tend to be focused on getting the grade, her SOE students approach the class from another perspective. “These people are here because it’s something different to expand their horizons or to meet new people or to do new things,” she said. “And they come with a really good attitude.”
Gary Chapman’s class is entitled “Charcoal: Expressive Mark Making, A Painter’s Approach to Charcoal,” and he noted that students from this age group bring a unique element to the class. “Because they’re older, I think they come not only with real-world experience, but they’ve sought this out. They want to be there,” he said.
It’s a trend he has seen in the nontraditional students who attend his drawing and painting classes at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “They bring something to the classroom that’s really phenomenal,” he said.
The classes bring together 24 participants from diverse backgrounds. “They’re really getting into it and starting to create,” said Janna Phillips, SOE’s Arts Education coordinator. “It’s really nice to see the students really open up in these classes we’re offering.”
According to Lewis, the program is about more than just learning art concepts. “Sometimes… their children have moved away, sometimes they’re retired, so they’re not having as much daily interaction with co-workers,” she said. “Sometimes they’ve lost a spouse, so the social aspect is really important, too.”
Now that Eunice Berry is retired, she is finding time to do things that she always wanted to do, including learning how to draw. “So when this class came up, it was a good opportunity for me to go and take some drawing lessons,” she said.
Berry enrolled in Doyal’s class and has already learned a number of technical concepts, some of which have surprised her. “I found all of it very interesting, because I had no idea that all of this was involved in doing art,” she said.
The seeding program is designed to last for two years while organizations seek additional funding. During that time, SOE hopes to host more classes, beginning with two this summer. “[W]e’ll take those out to the communities,” Lewis said. “So we’ll probably be working in housing communities or… senior centers, and then in the fall we’ll have two more classes here at Space One Eleven.”
The gallery also offers a number of programs for people who don’t yet qualify for “Art in the Making,” including an upcoming watercolor class this June and July and a figure drawing class that meets every Thursday night. “And this summer, we have all our summer art camps, which is grades two through 12,” said Phillips, explaining that the classes cover everything from animation and drawing to sculpture and fashion.
In addition, the gallery will be partnering with the UAB Department of Art and Art History for a series of exhibits and panel discussions concerning women, gender and African-American studies. The year-and-a-half series will kick off with Art Walk in the fall.
Space One Eleven, located at 2409 Second Ave. N., is a nonprofit gallery which relies on charitable donations for its programming. For more information, visit spaceoneeleven.org. To learn more about “Art in the Making,” contact Janna Phillips at 328-0553.