Urban Art for Older Adults

Graffiti crosses generational and cultural lines

From its hyper-local roots in New York in the 1970s, urban art has grown on a global scale. Although the genre tends to be associated with younger demographics, hip hop and graffiti’s artistry appeals to a surprisingly broad range of people. In Winnipeg, a unique creative partnership between Gwen Secter Living Centre and Graffiti Art Programming (GAP) is allowing forms of urban art to be explored by older adults.

Modelled after a senior’s program in Chicago, the Golden Age club in the North End of Winnipeg was Canada’s first senior’s drop-in centre. In the 1980s the centre was renamed Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre, as a tribute to a prominent community organizer and volunteer at the Golden Age Club.

Celebrating its 35th anniversary as Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre this summer, the organization’s offerings have evolved over the years. Through holistic programming ranging from fitness classes, lunch programs, lectures, and workshops, Gwen Secter has something for people with a variety of needs and interests.

A collection of tiles featuring photos and news clippings on a grey wall.

Urban art has been a welcome addition to Gwen Secter programming, with the creative artform being selected for two seniors workshops this summer. By partnering with GAP, older adults were shown a new way to ‘ignite their creativity and unleash their inner artists!’

“This particular one with Graffiti Gallery, is one of these wonderful workshops where we get to work with a community partner, bringing in someone from another organization and sharing their experience with our seniors,” says Dan Saidman, program coordinator at Gwen Secter.

Dan had a relationship with GAP’s executive director, Steve Wilson, prior to joining Gwen Secter. Steve, a personal mentor to Dan, reached out to Gwen Secter during the pandemic, wanting to connect more with seniors. The collaboration was based on the idea of developing arts and craft kits that could be used in nursing homes and retirement centres by recreation facilitators to run progressive art programming. Workshops at Gwen Secter were held to help to develop kits that would resonate with older adults.

The workshops, which are supported by The Winnipeg Foundation, are based on GAP models that have been adapted to provide programming for seniors in a progressive way. It’s less about traditional graffiti art, made with a spray can, and more about urban graphic design and the artistic side of urban culture.

Ethan Baranyk, the program coordinator at Studio 393 – GAP’s primary outreach program – has led the Gwen Secter workshops and has found his own community through this experience.

A tile featuring a note that reads "Thank you for the great art work. It is on my fridge and now I am not so lonely. You are all wonderful!"

“The people at Gwen Secter are very aware of community and of what that word means, how it affects them, and how it helps them,” says Ethan. “I love the community here. I love coming here, working with everybody, and creating some great art and just being a part of everything that is going on here.”

Though urban art is a new form of creativity for most participants, little was needed to adapt GAP’s programming. “Participants at Gwen Secter are a little bit more advanced [than youth participants] in what they’re able to take in,” says Ethan. “So, I guess in that way we’ve had to adapt our programming to better tailor to what their skills are.”

One of the participants in the workshop, Trude Shastel, has taken part in Gwen Secter programming for four years. For Trude, Gwen Secter programming was a family affair, as she would accompany her mother. Trude learned about different program offerings and has been hooked ever since.

“I was out in left field when I saw the word graffiti – I thought we would be spray-painting. I was excited. I came in with a dirty shirt and everything else,” says Trude. “I saw all this nice white paper on the table, I thought this wasn’t graffiti. It was something else.”

For Trude, it expanded her understanding about and enhanced her appreciation of the urban art form. “I had no idea what it was until Ethan was brought on board and offered these craft courses,” says Trude. “It’s just really an enjoyable afternoon for all of us!”

The Gwen Secter/GAP workshops are less about the final product, and more about creating community. They provide an opportunity for participants to have a space where they feel comfortable, a space to reach across cultural and generation divides to make something new.

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