The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

In January, Covia held the 3rd annual Creative Aging Symposium. Creative experts from a variety of fields came together to talk about creativity and how it can help boost resilience. The full recording of the symposium is now available online, broken out by speaker so that you can revisit a particular point or watch the symposium in its entirety. 

Speakers from this year’s symposium include dancer and choreographer Nancy Cranbourne; storyteller and co-founder of MiHistoria.net Albertina Zarazua Padilla; eco-friendly style icon Debra Rapoport; artist and activist Edythe Boone; geriatrician, writer, and educator Louise Aronson; and author and community organizer David “Lucky” Goff.

Takeaways from the 2020 Symposium

Nancy Cranboure kicks off the 2020 Creative Aging Symposium by discussing how dancing is an act of radical self-acceptance and how it imbues inner joy as discovered through the creation of her dance troupe 40 Women Over 40. She then leads in a moment of movement and dance that demonstrates the joy of movement at any age. 

Albertina Padilla offers a moment of creative reflection on reinvention and how to move our stories forward. She highlights concrete tips on how creativity can lead to resiliency framed through the lens of telling and understanding our own personal story.

Style icon Debra Rapoport is interviewed by Julie Pfitzinger, Senior Editor for Features at Next Avenue, and discusses the personal aspect of creativity.  She talks about how picking out what she wears every day has become a moment of meditation and how personal style helps us understand ourselves. Rapoport expounds on the fact that everyone is creative in their own way.

Offering a creative moment of reflection, Edythe Boone discusses how each unique neighborhood inspires the artwork that she creates in that community. She highlights the importance of incorporating a community in the creation of murals, where they are given a platform to highlight an injustice in the community or immortalize the contributions of specific community members.

Dr. Louise Aronson, geriatrician and bestselling author of Elderhood, shares the importance of stories, including in medicine, and how it is important to be intentional with and conscious of the words we use when talking about aging. Aronson also discusses the importance of imagination in aging and how “we are the artists of ourselves.”

To wrap up the Creative Aging Symposium experience, David ‘Lucky’ Goff discusses how as we age we get closer to ourselves and in this we get closer to the universe as a whole. Goff also discusses the importance of community and the ability to share stories within that community that embrace aging.

The Importance of Creativity  

“Creativity is the key ingredient to strengthening resiliency, and thus, it should be an ongoing part of our lives,” notes Creative Aging Symposium creator Katie Wade. “I’m thrilled that we now have the Creative Aging Symposium recordings accessible to us throughout the year. It means our creativity can be sparked at any moment!”

The symposium’s takeaways are particularly pertinent during this time of physical distancing as we find new ways to connect and boost our resiliency. If you are interested in delving deeper into each speaker with a group of interested older adults, Well Connected is currently in the middle of reviewing the symposium, one speaker a week through July 8th. The session meets on Wednesdays and are hosted by Creative Aging Symposium creator and Social Call Director Katie Wade and Well Connected volunteer Nancy Walton-House. These sessions have fostered engaging conversations and a deeper understanding of the importance of creativity. Well Connected participant Michelle notes “I’ve learned that creativity is not just about art but using your creative ideas in other aspects in life.”

We would love to hear what your favorite takeaways are from the symposium and if the symposium inspires you to pursue a new creative endeavor. If you are interested in learning more about creative aging and getting the latest news on next year’s symposium, be sure to sign up for our creative aging newsletter on the symposium video page.  

As we shelter in place, many people are taking up new creative projects, everything from knitting to baking or even learning a new musical instrument. Ruth’s Table is celebrating the power of creativity to lift our spirits and bring us together with the Enduring Inspiration: Creativity at Home initiative.

Ruth’s Table, part of Covia’s Community Services, is an arts nonprofit committed to increasing access to creative opportunities for older adults and adults with disabilities located at Bethany Center Senior Housing, a Covia Affordable Community. Through the Enduring Inspiration initiative Ruth’s Table is encouraging individuals sheltering in place to express themselves through creative projects with the help of creative care kits, support from teaching artists, and virtual classes. The culmination of the project is the Enduring Inspiration exhibition, a gallery show that will feature submitted art pieces created during this time.

Ruth’s Table Director Jessica McCracken notes, “Knowing that people were going to have to stay at home for a long duration of time, our first thought was around the risks associated with social isolation. Ruth’s Table programming has proven that the arts are an incredible tool for bringing people together. Enduring Inspiration was designed to bring a sense of hope and offer a way to process the magnitude of this experience.”

One way that this has manifested is with creative care kits, which include art-making activities (paired with supplies) that participants can use at home. Ruth’s Table has partnered with Covia Creative Spark to create Creative Spark worksheets, which are fun prompts intended to spark inspiration. Worksheets vary greatly, from turning a provided squiggle into a drawing to curating a personal art collection. An example of the worksheets can be found here.

Beyond the Creative Spark worksheet kits, Ruth’s Table has also partnered with Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSW), which empowers underprivileged youth through sewing and quilting, to create an intergenerational quilt. Ruth’s Table and SJSA have created quilt making kits that guide recipients through creating a quilt block that will be incorporated into a full quilt. This quilt will be on display as part of the Enduring Inspiration exhibit. If you are interested in creating a quilt block as part of the project, please reach out to contact@ruthstable.org.

Ruth’s Table is also supporting community creativity through individual or group phone calls as well as virtual classes. Group or individual support calls allow teaching artists to provide assistance and encouragement to those working on the creative care kits and Creative Spark worksheets. Virtual classes are also available for senior communities as a way to keep connected and engaged while we stay at home.

Set to take place later this year, the Enduring Inspiration exhibit is an invitation to us all to explore creative projects at home and share our work with others. Ruth’s Table is encouraging everyone to submit any creative projects of choice, from traditional art pieces like paintings and sculpture to other creative endeavors like recipes, musical pieces, and more.

Everyone and anyone is invited to submit their creative project for consideration and submissions are open now through August 1st. The submission process is easy and consists of a short write-up about the project, a photo of the project if applicable, and a short, 2 to 3 sentence bio. The full submission guidelines are available on Ruth’s Table’s website. To submit, please reach out to Ruth’s Table at contact@ruthstable.org or 415.505.3269. 

If you are working on a creative project during this time, also consider sharing photos and your process on social media using the hashtag #RTmakes. We’re excited to see what you create and how you are utilizing creativity to stay connected.

Leon Kennedy has lived and worked in Oakland, California for over 25 years and has been a resident of Oak Center Towers, a Covia Affordable Community, for seven. If you are out, about, and aware, you may just run into him on an Oakland street — where he is busy capturing on canvas the people and scenes of Bay Area life. Leon paints on “everything.” Some of his most impressive works have been captured on bed sheets he has found on the streets. Works on wood, tables and chairs, glass, and metal (even hubcaps) have been known to grace a thorough Kennedy collection. Many of the materials he works with come from the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland. He creates his artworks with markers, paints, crayons, beads, glitter, cotton, yarn, and rope.

Leon is rated one of the top 100 self-taught artists in the country. His works are coveted by prominent Folk Art collectors everywhere. Serious collectors take huge store in the fact that Mr. Kennedy’s works appear in the Smithsonian Institute, which adds value to the ownership of a Kennedy original.

Community is a central part of Kennedy’s vision of life, as shown in his painting, “Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” Kennedy explains that his art stems from his love for humanity, and he especially loves to paint the faces of the people that matter most to him, his close friends and family and neighbors.

“I love to see a picture of the beauty of old faces, young faces, all colors,” he says. “Everyone has their own beauty, everyone has character, and everyone goes through something. My work is based on community and family, and I love doing the faces and showing the heart and love. The heart of the community — you call it love.”

It is profoundly important for Leon Kennedy that his art serves the community. In a recent application Kennedy made for a public mural, a panelist said, “Mr. Kennedy actively builds community through his art.” His proposal was approved and the mural will be completed in 2020 at the African American Museum and Library.

“The main idea of my art is concern for people, encouraging someone else,” he said. “I love when someone loves the work, and feels touched. We’re here to serve and love and encourage one another. When I get a vision, I hope it helps someone.”

He has long had a vision as an artist. “As a child I knew that art was my vocation,” Kennedy said. Born in 1945 in Houston, Texas, he moved to the Bay Area in 1965. He lived in San Francisco’s Mission District in the 1970s and painted his first public mural in Hunter’s Point during that time. In Oakland, Kennedy began by painting on cloth, but he soon ran out of canvas, so he started painting on bed sheets and other found materials.

It seems fitting that he often finds his “canvases” on the street. “My art studio is the street,” Kennedy explained. “I paint on bed sheets that I hang on wooden fences and building walls.”

Kennedy paints nearly every day, often working on a bed sheet or a huge piece of cloth spread out on the floor of his studio apartment. He paints while kneeling, as if immersed in prayer. He explains that artistic visions constantly come to him. Living at Oak Center Towers provides him with a steady home base as well as a community from which to draw inspiration. “I love the variety of people here, I love my view of downtown,” he said. “The staff here is so supportive; anything that needs fixed is taken care of right away. I’m also inspired by the other artists here. I’d love to bring them all together so the world can see our creativity.”

Leon Kennedy will have a public mural called Oakland Faces on display at the Oakland Public Library in January. His work will be on exhibition at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in February as a part of the Black History Month celebration.

*This article was previously published in the Fall 2019 edition of Community Matters with quotes adapted from a Street Spirit article from April 2014.

On July 11th, Ruth’s Table, a program of Bethany Center Senior Housing, is celebrating its grand re-opening at a new dedicated gallery space located at 3160 21st Street, San Francisco. The opening reception from 6:00-9:00 pm launches a year-long exploration of Bauhaus through a series of exhibits.

Founded in 2009 with the support of artist Ruth Asawa, Ruth’s Table began as an arts initiative integrated into Bethany Center, an affordable senior housing community. The new building will serve as a gallery and creative learning space where people of all ages can come together to learn, connect, and create.

Jessica McCracken, Director of Ruth’s Table, says, “Ruth’s Table provides a safe, inclusive and welcoming space for the community to engage with arts, build meaningful connections and feel the uplifting joy of community. Our programs encourage personal growth and promote lifelong learning, while strengthening creativity, health, and independence to greatly enhance one’s quality of life.”

The first exhibit in the new space, Beyond the Warp and Weft, launches a year-long inaugural program of contemporary exhibitions celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus. The exhibit brings together 14 artists to illuminate the diversity of contemporary ideas of weaving and textile, highlight innovative craft thinking, and chart the future trajectory of the practice. The exhibition presents a stylistically diverse selection of works that combine hand weaving, sound, science, sculpture and site-specific installation.

Throughout the year, four exhibitions will examine the enduring impact of Bauhaus ideas on weaving and textile design, color interaction and theory, photography, and activism in the arts, with a particular emphasis on the way contemporary art practices have evolved with the innovations in materials and technology.

For more information, please visit https://www.ruthstable.org/.

For more than 20 years, muralist Dan Fontes has helped share the story of Bethany Center Senior Housing in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fontes first created the “Salud!” mural that covers the 9-story building at 21st and Capp Street in 1997 with only one assistant. Now, he is in the midst of a full restoration, working with five other skilled artists to bring even more life to his original vision.

The idea behind the mural was to bring the inside of Bethany outside by sharing true-to-life images of some of the residents. “Unfortunately at the time I had to wrap it up a little too soon,” he says. “So this time I’ve been able to develop the characters more fully as I originally intended. Probably a lot of the neighbors won’t even be able to notice, but I would notice. There’s a few color changes here and there. We’ve brightened up their clothing so they’re not so gray. They’re just more lively, which is what I always intended: to have the seniors look lively and happy and activated and just living their fullest lives.”

Starting at 7:00 each morning, Fontes and his team – Desi Mundo, Kristi Holohan, Antoinette Johnson, Gwen Renee, and Haley Summerfield – use brushes as small as ¼ inch to apply acrylic paint over every inch of the 98 foot tall building, followed by three coats of heavy-duty anti-graffiti varnish.

“I have the dream team. These people have it all. They’re talented. They’re full of courage because you have to have courage to step out over that 9th floor at 98 to 100 feet,” says Fontes.

“We’ve gone through a lot of brushes and a lot of the human figures have now been triple-coated with new paint, so it’s as if you’re painting an entirely new mural on top of the one that’s here. I think it’s going to show.”

“People ask if that’s me in the mural,” says Elizabeth Dunlap who has lived at Bethany since before the mural was first developed. “I think they are surprised that it shows actual people that live here at Bethany.”

The mural also includes a silhouette of the steeple of the Methodist Church formerly located on the site. Bethany Center, a Covia Affordable Community, was established in the late 1960’s as a ministry of the United Methodist Church in San Francisco to provide affordable housing for low income seniors. In addition to 133 apartments, Bethany offers programs, activities, and special events through Ruth’s Table, an art and wellness space named for renowned San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa.

For former Bethany Center CEO Jerry Brown, now Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, the mural represents a connection to the Mission and the greater San Francisco community and illustrates the “empowerment of people of diverse backgrounds aging well with vitality in a place they call home.”

“To me that’s a really critical message: that people understand this is a senior center, these are beautiful people who live here, that it’s a diverse community that’s shared by multiple races and people from different countries and areas,” says Fontes. “It’s a positive place, it’s a beautiful place, it’s a gathering of souls. In a way, it’s a work of art.”

Bethany Center Senior Housing will unveil the completely restored mural in mid-October as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

When the summer session of Well Connected begins on Monday, July 9th, it will include a new season of virtual visits to museums throughout the United States in a series called Museums at Home.

Amber Carroll, Director of Well Connected, remembers attending a program with the Oakland Museum. “I was blown away by how amazingly descriptive, fun, and educational a virtual tour could be. The participants loved it! At that moment I started fantasizing about creating a Museums Without Walls program. When Katie [Wade, Assistant Director of Well Connected] came on board, she made my dream a reality.”

And the reality is powerful for participants. Carroll explains, “Imagine how crowded the Art Institute of Chicago was for the John Singer Sargent exhibit this past spring! Museums at Home provides the opportunity to view exhibits without travel, without crowds, without admission fees, and without sore feet. Because we additionally train docents about accessibility for low-vision and blind participants, the experience really feels like you’re there without any of the hassles.”

This session’s museum visits include exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the South Carolina State Museum, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Wade says, “Some participants remember visiting these museums with their children, or learning about an artist in school, or spending hours in a particular museum and they value the opportunity to recreate those experience in a new, more accessible way. Others have felt a shift in how they view important moments in American history. Some are newly exploring art and find it meaningful to be able to ask questions of the docent and other participants. There’s a little something for all.”

She continues, “Museums at Home reminds me that art is such a powerful tool for personal growth – it sparks new ways of thinking, innovation, and brings people together.”

Well Connected is a Covia Community Services program. To find out more about Well Connected, visit https://covia.org/services/well-connected/. You can download the current catalog here to learn more about Museums at Home and the many other programs, support groups, and educational sessions offered by Well Connected.