ArtWorks East launches county-wide arts program focused on seniors, intergenerational activities

GUYSBOROUGH — Armed with public funding and an enthusiastic band of local artisans, ArtWorks East is offering a series of workshops throughout Guysborough County this spring and summer on everything from textiles to sea glass and pebble craft.

ArtWorks President Jack Leonard says the 29 workshops in various locations – including Sherbrooke, Larry’s River, Canso and Guysborough, among others – and another 20 for nursing home residents are aimed at seniors because the high older population here.

“Over 50 per cent [of people] who live in Guysborough [County] are over the age of 55, and a lot of them are retired and have time on their hands.”

The other reason, he laughs, is “frankly, there’s funding available for this. It turns out, there’s quite a few grants that target seniors.”

While Leonard declines to divulge many funding details, he says the provincial grants for this program are approximately $30,000, and will pay for the artists, materials and some support. As well, he says, “the grants are not exclusively [focused] on seniors. The programs invite you to do intergenerational things, which is the kind of thing we want to encourage.”

ArtsWork East member Joanna Miller, for example, is conducting the first workshop later this month in Larry’s River. Says Leonard: “She came up with this idea for three workshops in the three weeks before Mother’s Day [on May 12] on textile art. It’s an intergenerational thing, where a senior family member will come with a younger family member. They’ll bring along little mementos that are meaningful to them – pieces of clothing or cast-off jewelry or cards, or something. They’ll then make a mosaic or collage out of these items; kind of like a family tree.”

He adds: “We also got some funds to hire some teenagers as assistants, which is good for them, but it’s also good for artists, like Joanna, who’s never done a workshop before.”

One who has is Lois Ann Dort, an instructor at the Guysborough County Adult Learning Association (and a former reporter for The Journal). “Before the pandemic ... I had a group of girls ... and we spent at least one afternoon on the beach taking pictures,” she says.

Dort, who reports that she’s been “doing photography for years as my other creative outlet” welcomes the opportunity, as a member of ArtWorks East, to share her smart phone camera skills with others. “[There’ll be] three workshops – five to six participants per session, [each] three hours long – tentatively [in] Sherbrooke, Guysborough, and Canso to take place in June, early August and mid-September. All must have a smart phone.”

She notes, “the first tip for making good pictures is to see; to look for small details [such as] textures, angles, patterns. Keep the photo simple – direct attention to one subject ... Whoever comes has to be ready to lay down on the ground. I always get the best pictures from the most unusual angles.”

Leonard says other ArtWorks members are also keen to participate.

“Wilda Kaiser is going to do some painting workshops at the independent living facility in Sherbrooke. Adrian Betts does little things with pebbles and sea glass. We’re contracting with Sandy Winter (printing and other media) to line up all the [independent] seniors workshops. Moni Duersch (painting and other media) is handling all the nursing homes.”

All of which makes Leonard, a former teacher and school principal from the U.S. “really happy.”

“Hey, I’m 76 years old, myself. I keep reminding everybody that this has been the best year we’ve had for grant funds. We’re not going to get grants like this every year. We should enjoy it. We’re always thinking that we want to teach artists how to do [this], so they’ll have some confidence running workshops. We may find that, in the future, people will just pay them a fee to attend.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal