Recently, we asked two artists participating in the SPARC (Seniors Partnering with Seniors Citywide) program, more about what they are working on and learned more about what drives them to be an artist. SPARC is a community arts engagement initiative that places artists-in-residence at senior centers across the five boroughs in exchange for providing arts programming for older adults. These first features, part of our new “SPARC Stories” series, follow the journeys of two artists during their residencies: Paul Ferrara, who is teaching printmaking at Hamilton Innovative Senior Center, and Shireen Dickson, who is teaching the history of American dance at Hudson Guild Senior Center. This is Paul Ferrara’s story:
Name: Paul Ferrara
Medium of Work: visual and performing arts
Describes work as: Fragmented, detailed, repurposed
What inspired you to become an artist? Everything from what sparked your first interest to the arts to where you are today.
Looking back, it was my interest in theatre which drew me into the arts, which in turn lead me into a career as a scenic artist and prop artisan, working in regional and off-Broadway theatres. I came to discover that the arts is a collaborative experience. In my 40’s, I recognized my desire to teach and I entered into a master’s program at Pratt Institute for Art and Design Education. I find it rewarding to invite others to investigate the experience of self expression though the visual arts.
What got you interested in engaging with the New York community through the arts?
After my first two semesters in graduate school, I wanted to continue to teach over the summer months, so I volunteered to teach art classes at a senior center in my neighborhood (Washington heights, STAR Senior Center). This coupled with the fact that I had witnessed the questions that my mother was facing after the death of my father, started me to think about the issues the elderly face later in life. And I started thinking about how could I use my experience as an art educator to reach out to the elder population and researched what opportunities were available for elders who wished to engage in the arts, beyond paint-by-numbers.
This is your second time participating in SPARC? What drew you back to the program?
I enjoy being around elders, and I am intrigued with their history and life experiences. It was also my desire to continue to understand what defines best teaching practices when teaching to an older population. I wondered how I might introduce the artistic practices of contemporary artists and the different forms that art making takes. I also witnessed the positive impact of participating in an art program for older adults, and my love of teaching drew me back. Furthermore, community and relationships are formed and it is gratifying to be a catalyst for this exchange.
What art form will you be using to engage with the folks at the senior center?
Printmaking. I choose printmaking for a few reasons. I saw how successful Ann Dever Smith’s (SPARC artist 2014) program was at Coffeehouse Senior Center on West 42nd street and that the participants enjoyed the art form. In printmaking, there are multiple ways to achieve a print, and there are user-friendly materials that can make the experience very inviting. Another aspect of printmaking that I like is the ability to make several copies of one’s work and thus being able to share that print with friends. Whereas with one painting that is all one has and it becomes very precious. It is my expectations that by the end of the course each participant will create a book with a collection of their peer’s prints.
What did you learn from your first SPARC experience and what do you think you will learn from your experience this time around?
For my last SPARC residency, I ran the class without having breaks, this time around I decided to divide the time into sections in order to invite new participants into the class. I am also planning on spending more time at the center socializing and holding office hours/open studio time so that the members can drop in and work on their printmaking project; more one-on-one time. I have various fieldtrips planned, i.e. Art Students League, a professional printmaking studio, a gallery in Chelsea, and the New York Public Library print collection.
What do you hope seniors will learn from the collaboration?
I am hoping that they discover all the possibilities that printmaking holds, whether it means moving on to an advanced level and developing that skill, or considering printmaking in its more utilitarian methods and how they can experiment with that process.
I hope that they will be encouraged to continue to explore their desire for self expression through the visual arts, and to take time for their own printmaking projects.
What do you foresee as the final culmination of the project?
This year, the administrative staff at the senior center have decided to create a “Creative Aging Arts Day,” the date will be Tuesday, June 16th. The prints created in the class will be exhibited along with a variety of events taking place that day: a dance performance, poetry readings, scenes from a playwriting class, and an exhibit of watercolor paintings from a watercolor class held at the Center.
On Wednesday, April 8, we are holding the first event called “Project Print”. I will set up a table in the lobby of the senior center and along with the participants, we will demonstrate the silkscreen process. The members of the Center will chose a silkscreen print (an image created by the participants in the class) that they would like to have printed either on paper, or on a Tee Shirt that we are asking them to supply. There will also be preprinted canvas tote bags available for purchase, with the money going to help fund a fieldtrip to the Lower Eastside Printshop.
Finally, what was the last work of art that you saw that had a strong impression on you?
The current exhibition of Kehinde Wiley’s painting at the Brooklyn Museum.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paul Ferrara