Art at River Ridge Retirement Home: Finding the Artist Within

January, 2017

Pablo Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Well, River Ridge Retirement Home in St. Albert takes this to heart with its extensive recreation program—an important part of which is the art studio. Run by its art facilitator, Carly Greene, the studio is a warm, welcoming space where community members can collaborate, create and communicate. As Greene explains, that’s vital at all stages of life:

“Our residents are people just like you and me, just at a different stage in their lives. They don’t want to lose their community involvement or their activeness and creativity.”

And it’s not just Greene who thinks so. Science has proven that creative activities contribute to a healthy mind and body by alleviating boredom, reducing depression and improving hand-eye coordination. As we discovered on our visit, the residents at River Ridge realize these benefits through intergenerational collaborations, a sense of purpose, productive creativity and a tremendous pride in the work they’ve created. It’s no wonder this studio is so well loved. Take a look.

When Greene joined the program in 2013, she brought with her an intuitive style that prioritizes creativity over technique. While the studio space is always open, Greene is also available five days a week to guide residents on their creative journeys and help them realize their own artistic point of view—rather than force her own vision on them. That journey, however, doesn’t begin and end with the residents. In 2016, Greene, along with a group of high school teachers and a local youth leader named Ben Huising, brought seniors and students together for seven weeks to create abstract art—a genre outside the comfort zone of many residents. The seniors and students discussed art, told jokes and built friendships. And the final works were exhibited at The Marketplace, a youth collective in St. Albert, where more than 50 friends and family enjoyed and celebrated the finished works. The initiative was so successful, in fact, that Greene is actively looking for ways to continue building intergenerational programs. Not only do these large projects help create a sense of community, Greene notes that “There’s so much less pressure on the creative process when you have help and can respond to other people.”

In her focus on creativity, Greene sees the potential for residents to try things they may not have otherwise attempted. Those new projects, however, are often based on community donations, which can come in diverse forms. Greene uses those donations—and restrictions—to teach residents how to be creative with any material. As such, the art studio boasts a refreshingly diverse variety of mediums—paint, pastel, fabric and paper, to name a few.

Residents have told Greene how much they love being in the space and how important it is to their well-being. She even gets calls from families talking about the joy their loved ones get from the space. Maintaining those personal connections is important to Greene, so when activity levels slow, she uses her own creativity to revitalize the studio and draw residents back in. The space has become a point of pride with residents, who given any opportunity, will talk about what they and their community have created.

The studio has been so successful in St. Albert that River Ridge’s parent company, Rivera, is looking for ways to bring the project to two sister communities in Edmonton. Greene points out that it can be isolating to live in a retirement community, so River Ridge looks for ways to bring the wider community to their residents. Families and friends are welcome to create with residents, and works are exhibited once a year. Community members are invited to donate art supplies and visit the annual exhibition. Greene hopes the studio becomes a hub where the healing powers of art and community bring people of all ages together.  t8n

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