UWM students connect with older adults through art

Mari Marks is holding creative coloring sessions at five senior centers. Ian McGibbon helped residents of Eastcastle Place design and create Halloween costumes, and took them on a trip to the Union Gallery. Jackie Kostichka taught Aztec dances to older adults at the Milwaukee Catholic Home – and four residents joined her in a performance.

Marks, McGibbon and Kostichka are part of the Student Artists in Residence program, an unusual partnership that brings students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee together with older adults to create art. The program is a collaboration between the Peck School of the Arts and the Center for Student-Based Learning, Leadership and Research.

“I’m so happy to be doing this,” Marks said. “It really lets me share my passion and love of art with others. I’ve had some really good discussions [with the seniors] about their perspectives and interests in art. It’s also been great to learn about the communities and the senior centers.”

The most recent Student Artists in Residence project paired eight arts majors with senior residences and programs for nearly a year – from September through July. Students earn a stipend for their efforts.

Marks, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s of fine arts in ceramics and painting, is involved with Interfaith Older Adult Programs, which serves five Milwaukee County senior centers. Other students are connected with the Milwaukee Catholic Home, Eastcastle Place, Chai Point, St. John’s on the Lake, the Beulah Brinton Community Center, HarborChase, and Aurora Sinai’s Acute Care for the Elderly hospital unit.

“Any time we can bring youthful energy through our front door, it has a positive impact,” said Amy O’Connor, resident life director at the Milwaukee Catholic Home, where dance major Kostichka worked. “The students gain practical experience through the programming as well as build friendships and connections with older residents.”

Although most of the students come to the senior residences and centers to organize programs, Ian McGibbon, a UWM senior studying art and design, lived at Eastcastle Place during the fall semester, and he’s now living at Chai Point. “It’s been a wonderful, interesting and amazing experience, and I’d like to do it again next year,” he said while playing cribbage with senior residents at a game night he organized.

McGibbon provided Eastcastle Place residents with experiences beyond their standard activities program, said Laura Wengler, Eastcastle’s director of community lifestyle services. “They really enjoyed their visit to the UWM Art Gallery and the Gallery Gab he organized afterward to discuss the art.”

Anne Basting is a professor of theater and facilitator at Creative Trust Milwaukee, which runs the Senior Artists in Residence program, with support from Bader Philanthropies. Creative Trust offers arts programming, education and arts events that are intergenerational and collaborative. Basting said the program is working with the senior facilities to see if similar residency arrangements can be worked out for its next iteration.

“It is social innovation ­– through the arts ­– in action,” she said.

Marks, who sells her own creations and also works at Splash Studio, a painting bar, said she benefitted from her work with the Student Artists in Residence program. In addition to the coloring workshops, one of her projects with Interfaith was helping organize the Lifetime Arts Competition, a juried show involving older adults in a five-county area.

“I have met with people I otherwise wouldn’t have interacted with,” Marks said, “and I have more experience planning workshops, communicating with many people, organizing events and setting deadlines.”

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