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An intergenerational debut at the art gallery.

It wasn't an exhibition of Old Masters or a collection of modern avant-garde artists--or was it? In June [2003], visitors to the Esther M. Klein Art Gallery were treated to a body of work conceived and crafted by a collaboration of Philadelphia-area nursing home residents and schoolchildren. The Klein Gallery, located at The Science Center in Philadelphia, hosted the premiere of the one-month exhibition, "Comfort & Joy [TM], Celebrating Intergenerational Artistic Achievement," an exciting amalgam of art and cultural achievements by the residents of the six nursing homes in the NewCourtland Elder Services' network and area students.


NewCourtland originally designed Comfort & Joy in 1997 as an arts and entertainment experience, but it has since evolved into a hands-on, interactive, goal-driven program. Prior to embarking on a project, everyone involved--the artists (accomplished professionals who dedicate their time and talents to this enrichment program), staff, residents, and children--receives sensitivity training to help him or her understand others' perspectives on life, age, and the world. The fruits of that training are evidenced by the close affection shared by all parties. Pam Mammarella, NewCourtland Elder Services' director of corporate communications and creator of the Comfort & Joy program, says that many of the volunteer artists continue to stop by just to say hello to their elderly friends.

According to the Klein Gallery's Director and Curator of Exhibits Dan Schimmel, the gallery has always emphasized art and science exhibits--its historical focus has been on the parallel relationship between the scientific and artistic approach to solving problems--but in the last 10 years many community outreach initiatives have been incorporated in the gallery's mission, such as the Art & Community Series, which showcases local organizations that use art to enhance the lives of their members.

While searching for the right intergenerational partner for this exhibit, Schimmel heard about Rodney Whittenberg of Melodyvision, Inc.--a nonprofit sound, music, and video production company--who had been a guest on WXPN-FM's Kids Corner and is heavily involved in NewCourtland's Comfort & Joy program. On this children's radio program, Whittenberg introduced "Intergenerational Moments," a series of 10-minute radio spots that would run on Kids Corner to discuss the dynamics and positive outcomes of NewCourtland's initiative in which students and residents jointly participate in arts and cultural projects. Schimmel contacted Whittenberg and together they approached NewCourtland with their plan to exhibit NewCourtland's intergenerational creativity at the Klein Gallery. The exhibition became reality. "The partnership with NewCourtland was a natural match for us to meet our outreach objectives," says Schimmel.

"This was such an exciting venture," agrees Mammarella. "It gave us an unparalleled opportunity to show the public what our residents can do. Blending elders with students gives both groups unprecedented opportunities to learn, teach, interact, and react not only to each other, but also with the professionals guiding the various projects. It is so rewarding to see residents discover their untapped talents. For many, their lives are now richer and more diverse than when they were living on their own."

Among the displays the visitors enjoyed throughout the gallery were mosaic murals, handmade quilts and dolls, a small-scale village based on the reminiscences of elderly residents, and more.

"A photographic display of mosaic murals that residents created on the walls of our various facilities was displayed at the gallery so the public could experience the beauty and intricacies of these large works," says Schimmel. Mammarella confirms that, despite the murals' complexities, residents were involved in every aspect of the project--from design to final execution. "At the Care Pavilion facility, kids from Andrew Hamilton School joined the residents in creating a mural based on people and events of the 20th century, which included mosaic images of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Neil Armstrong.


"Although most residents don't have the manual dexterity to draw freehand," explains Mammarella, "they can trace images and can use a small hammer to break up tile and put it up on the wall as well as anyone." The students enthusiastically shared their ideas and skills to assist the residents with concept suggestions, preliminary drawings, and some of the higher-placed tile assembly.

As the murals depict shared history, so did the Sacred Village and Dollmaking projects give the students insights into the personal lives and histories of their elders. Through interviews for the Sacred Village project, the children learned what life was like when these residents were young. For instance, they would ask questions such as, "What place do you remember fondly?", "What was your school like?", and "Where did you feel safe?" These reminiscent sights and locales were translated to paper, glued on balsa wood, assembled, and became the Sacred Village--a town built from many legacies. "It is wonderful to look at these little buildings and revisit the stories associated with them," remarks Mammarella. In a similar project at other facilities, interviewers asked residents about how they saw themselves, how they used to be, or how they would like to be seen. From this information, dolls that reflected residents' self-images were created. For example, if a resident loved to cook, the doll wore an apron and maybe had its hair tied back. Like the Village buildings, these dolls also serve as reminders of each person's individuality.

Meanwhile, residents at some facilities created composite depictions of their histories that were sewn together to make Talking Quilts. At the exhibition, the student-resident interviews that inspired the quilts were played so that visitors would understand their meaning. As a post-9/11 variation of the Talking Quilts, NewCourtland residents got together to create a Healing Quilt in the style of an American flag to honor Philadelphia's fire and police departments. Embroidered on the quilt were personal sentiments, messages, or words of gratitude from the elders and students. This quilt has touched so many hearts that, when it travels to various locations around Philadelphia, it is escorted by a color guard provided by the safety forces that it honors.

The exhibit had other audiovisual components, as well. The latest flat-screen video monitors ran another, more technologic endeavor--the stop-action animated film Time Brings On Change. According to Mammarella, the residents at the Cheltenham York Road facility wanted to create a puppet show. "We decided to take the puppet show concept one step further," says Mammarella, "and with help from Melodyvision turned it into an animated video." The youth involved with this project were part of Operation Understanding, an organization that had been sending African-American students to Israel and Jewish students to African countries to learn about cultural diversity. Because of current world conditions, it was decided to teach the students about cultural diversity on a local level, with the added bonus of exposing them to age diversity. This group of 11 students and 13 residents wrote their own script based on a resident's actual experience, built miniature sets, created clay-like characters, and acted their parts. "Everyone worked together beautifully to create this story about a local hospital being razed and through community activism, the neighborhood coming together to build its own medical clinic to serve its needs," explains Mammarella.

In another section of the Klein Gallery, a DVD player ran a series of two- and three-minute video vignettes about the Comfort & Joy program that ran on Philadelphia's PBS station, WHYY. "These segments ran on the senior-focused program Wider Horizons, and continued to run as bumpers between other programs. They have been so successful that we will be doing new spots for WHYY in which children and residents will tell what working together has meant to them," says Mammarella.


Meanwhile, the sounds of the Voices of Ages Intergenerational Choir permeated the gallery, and even the Golden Eagle Scouts, NewCourtland's senior scouts, were featured in a special area. "Although this group did not create any artwork for display," says Schimmel, "they certainly deserved recognition, so we designed a display that featured photos of their activities with local troops from the Boy Scouts of America's Cradle of Liberty Council-Western District, such as cooking and camping. Their troop flag was displayed along with a uniform. It was important to acknowledge their achievement because it is, at present, the only senior scout program in the country." Mammarella adds that one of the most heartwarming moments for her was when some of the Golden Eagle Scouts arrived in full dress uniform, sat in their display area, and fielded questions from visitors.

Not only did the residents enjoy seeing their work in a professional presentation, but the students were also moved. "The exhibit was incredibly touching," says Thomas Fuell, a senior at Masterman School in Philadelphia. "I saw not only the Time Brings On Change video project with the group of elders and students I worked with, but also saw the projects of others. I hadn't realized the scope of these projects until this event, but when I did, I felt a wave of emotion wash over me because I realized that other people were given the opportunity to form similar bonds and have experiences similar to mine. It made me smile."


He was not alone in realizing their participation's importance. Anna McGorman, a junior at Friends Select School, comments, "It was one thing to enjoy the weekly visits and projects with the elders, but it was really extraordinary to see how all the work came together. The exhibit not only reminded me of the many wonderful memories created by the project, it also allowed me to join together with my new friends and celebrate them. I will never forget the looks on my friends' faces when they saw our creation." According to Mammarella, Anna's observation was right on the money: "The residents were mesmerized watching themselves in some of the documentaries or seeing their work on display. Their happiness filled the room."

Since NewCourtland's facilities are in the inner city, many project themes or depictions are Afrocentric. "One of the visitors to the exhibit was Justine Cox, executive director of the African American Museum in Philadelphia," relates Schimmel, "and there are plans to have the Comfort & Joy exhibit move to that venue after it leaves the Klein Gallery. In addition, there is a possibility that all or part of this exhibit may become part of the Art in City Hall project and be displayed at Philadelphia's City Hall. Needless to say, this exhibit has received attention."

"Working with the Klein Gallery has been a wonderful experience and we plan to collaborate on future intergenerational activities," says Mammarella. "Meanwhile, our Comfort & Joy program continues to grow." For example, at NewCourtland's Maplewood Manor facility, plans for a wandering garden are underway. To add interest to the path and make it their own, residents want to paint or tile totems that visually describe who they are. This project has generated interest not only from school groups, but also community organizations, thereby incorporating adult participation to add a multigenerational dimension to the program.

From scouting activities to sharing the magic of music and art with their neighbors, the residents of NewCourtland's network happily give as much "comfort and joy" as they receive. Although they live in nursing homes, these seniors stay connected to life by sharing their ideas and memories with children and making them come alive--together.

For more information, contact Pam Mammarella, NewCourtland Elder Services, Director of Corporate Communications and creator of the Comfort & Joy program, at (877) 769-9953, fax (215) 965-1909, e-mail, or visit


A collaboration of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging and Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management Not-for-Profit Report, appearing in every issue of Nursing Homes magazine, addresses issues of particular interest to long-term care's not-for-profit sector. It provides nonprofit aging service providers with an additional information resource. Topics have been identified in collaboration with the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Nursing Homes welcomes comments and suggestions for future coverage.
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Title Annotation:NOT-FOR-PROFIT report; exhibition of artwork from nursing home residents and schoolchildren
Author:Hoban, Sandra
Publication:Nursing Homes
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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