What does holistic wellness mean to people of different ages? Erin Partridge, Experiential Researcher-in-Residence with Elder Care Alliance, hopes a joint mural project between local art students and residents of Mercy Retirement & Care Center can help enhance intergenerational understanding of the term.
The project, a partnership with California College of the Arts as part of the ENGAGE at CCA program, brings an entire class of art students together with a group of Mercy residents to create seven mural panels that will be installed in mid-December. The mural will be inspired by the idea of holistic wellness, Erin said, and residents are playing a significant role in the decision processes about ideas and designs for the art.
Creating Connections Between Generations
As part of the project, students learn how to interact with community residents and respect their ideas as they navigate their own artistic vision. The project is a good fit for Mercy because it shares the community’s important ideals, including empowering residents, giving residents a voice, and creating opportunities for intergenerational connections, Erin said.
Recently, Erin introduced the class of approximately 15 students to the residents and suggested some of the themes students may encounter in their work. In an upcoming meeting, she said, students and residents will brainstorm project ideas and share a meal.
“It’s important to us that (the students) get to know the residents,” she said. “It’s an important part of the class that they not only complete a project but immerse themselves in the community.”
After the brainstorming session, the students will work on the mural panels in their studio at the art school. As the work progresses, Erin will visit the studio, and students will later return to the community to present their ideas to the residents.
Students will complete work on the mural in their studio — with residents checking in on progress occasionally via videoconferencing — and the piece will be installed in December.
The Role of Creative Arts Therapies
Erin noted that residents who get involved in art and other creative pursuits often uncover additional insights into their own lives or create new connections with the greater community.
“(Art therapy) has this mutual benefit,” she said. “For the elders, they get to feel that they have a voice in a setting that they normally wouldn’t. For the students, it allows them to have access to a different set of eyes that have seen a lot more life and more experiences than they have.”
Hearing input from the residents helps expand students’ artistic vision beyond what they might develop in the classroom alone, Erin said. Such expressions of intergenerational collaboration — like the mural project — can start to shift ideas and change minds about stereotypes about older adults.