Seniors tap into creative side

You are never too old to express your creative side at the Seniors Outreach Program at the McMillan Arts Centre

Margaret McGrath (left) holds the first painting she attempted just over a year ago.  She credits her art teacher Kelly Ulrich (right in red wearing glasses) for helping with her progression as an artist.

Margaret McGrath (left) holds the first painting she attempted just over a year ago. She credits her art teacher Kelly Ulrich (right in red wearing glasses) for helping with her progression as an artist.

You are never too old to learn a new hobby. At least that is what a group of seniors who have been taking art lessons will tell you. Over the past year the emerging artists have been dabbling in all kinds of mediums expressing creativity that had not been tapped into before.

Thanks to the Seniors Outreach Art Program (SOAP) several seniors in District 69 have been learning skills that have resulted in wonderful paintings and drawings.  Their artwork is going to be exhibited in one of the galleries at the McMillan Arts Centre (MAC) in Parksville from January 31 to February 25 in hopes it will inspire even more seniors to explore their artistic side.

SOAP was initiated in 2010 with the intention of bringing arts to isolated seniors in the area at no charge. A federal New Horizons grant resulted in about 40 seniors in the community learning how to paint, draw and do crafts in a social setting. In 2011, the government funding for the program dried up, but because it was so successful, organizers wanted to keep it going.

Dave Wright, the co-ordinator of SOAP said they had wonderful testimonials from people who said the program got them interested in art and through fundraising efforts they were able to continue offering the art classes in a scaled down program.

In the fall of 2011, several new members were welcomed into SOAP 2.  They joined some returning students in weekly courses at the Parksville Seniors Centre with facilitators Norma Emerson and Kelly Ulrich providing the inspiration and guidance.

Emerson has seen two main developments in the program; the seniors’ confidence as artists and camaraderie amongst them.  She said as artists, negative comments are sometimes heard at the beginning of the course, but most just need assurance that their work is beautifully expressive.

“One student, while drawing Christmas ribbon candy, moaned, they look like false teeth.  You won’t hear that in a high school art class,” said Emerson.

She added, “One 80 year old even rode her bicycle to class when her husband was not able to drive her.  With her pants tucked into striped knee-high socks, she was a colourful sight.  What determination and spirit…this group is an inspiration.”

Ulrich agreed it is gratifying to see the progress made by her eager elderly students and her instruction simply brought out what her pupils had in them.

“Once you are told how to do it then it’s just a matter of mastering it.  It is an eye opener for me to see that seniors can accomplish a lot in a relatively short time,” she stated.

Margaret McGrath of Parksville is one of Ulrich’s students who has grown by leaps and bounds.  McGrath credits her progress to the positive feedback and encouragement she has received from Ulrich.

“Kelly is a fantastic instructor.  I never even thought I could paint,” admitted McGrath.

The seniors were happy to run with and explore the projects and mediums that they were presented with and now the public has an opportunity to be inspired by their work.  The exhibition, titled Its Never Too Late…a Creative Journey in Progress will feature three different pieces by each senior artist including one of their first projects.  Ulrich said hopefully their work will show how an artist can grow and remove any intimidation there may be about being too old to learn something new.

“I hope people will say wow…look at what they have done.”

This is just one of the three unique exhibitions that will kick off the new MAC season.  In the Joe Cunningham Ford Gallery there will be an exhibition of unique collage, mixed media, photography, and pop art by artist Fiona Dunnett and in the Nemeth Gallery, Nanaimo artist Donna Wilk will be displaying her art depicting Vancouver Island flora.  A reception for the public to meet the artists will be held on Friday February 3, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the McMillan Arts Centre, at 133 McMillan Street in Parksville.