Kelly McConnell, Director of Art Education Outreach, Associate Professor
I never anticipated how much my college students would love going to a place that felt like a home and a family. They missed being surrounded by older, nurturing elders… The exhibition was a beautiful mix of wheelchairs, walkers, and wild hairstyles. The way our communities came together in this class and exhibit was phenomenal.
Article originally published in The Cedars Magazine.
Local Art Students and Seniors at The Cedars Fore a Connection Through Art
"Where can I be an aging artist?"
"Where can I be true to myself"
Kelly McConnell, an artist-educator at MECA&D, found herself pondering these questions while observing an Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) session at The Cedars.
OMA, led by artist-in-residence Pamela Moulton, is an innovative intergenerational art therapy program that allows seniors with dementia to create, and communicate, with abstract art while training physical therapy students at the University of New England for careers in elder care. Kelly was energized and inspired— and determined to find a way to forge the same kind of bond between seniors and her own art education students at MECA&D.
The Cedars Learning Community™ and the students at Maine College of Art & Design develop an innovative, intergenerational approach to teaching art to seniors that transforms the way we see aging—and each other.
Kelly McConnell's popular Public Engagement seminar teaches students at MECA&D how to teach art. Her pupils practice these skills in a real-world setting, typically a secondary school classroom. But after seeing OMA in action at The Cedars, she had a bold idea: asking The Cedars to host her seminar.
Developing community partnerships and educational opportunities is a core objective of The Cedars Learning Community™, so The Cedars eagerly signed on.
"I so appreciated the spirit of the leaders at The Cedars to do things that are things artists do— sit with uncertainty hover in the unknown, explore," she says. "It was a leap of faith for everyone."
Kelly's collaborative, emergent approach to teaching meant that everyone involved— students and elder artists— could, and did, shape the direction of the course and the work. The elder artists practiced art techniques and the MECA&D students practiced teaching and social outreach strategies, but that was just the part of the knowledge shared and gained.
"We asked the elder artists what they hoped to get out of the class," Kelly recalls. "They told us 'at the end of this class, I hope we will be friends'".
Over the next seven weeks, the elder artists and the art students did become friends.
"The elders and students grappled with big questions about the nature of art and their roles of artists," Kelly says. "They could also ask each other about hair colors, nose rings, and their job prospects after graduation."
The course culminated in a First Friday exhibition at MECA&D where students, seniors, their families, and The Cedars community gathered to celebrate a bold vision of community, aging, and art.
"Art didn't mean anything to me until older years. It became a part of my life and I have the time. Art means not to be afraid of making a mark on the paper, and it doesn't matter if my neighbor says it's art. I am the artist! Art is about not being afraid to do what I want as an artist" — Lauretta, Elder Artist