BY TORRENCE BANKS
Did you know that if you’re over 55, you’re eligible for free art classes through Art Works Now?
In 2015, Art Works first started offering free art classes for senior Hyattsville residents, in partnership with the City of Hyattsville, through the city’s Hyattsville is Home initiative.
According to Quianna Taylor, the Hyattsville Department of Community Services Senior and Wellness coordinator, Hyattsville is Home was created by the City of Hyattsville more than a decade ago, prior to the city’s collaboration with Art Works. At the beginning of the city initiative, art classes were offered at Friendship Arms senior living facility before later moving to the Hyattsville Municipal Building. These classes are now being offered at Art Works’ Rhode Island Avenue building.
In 2019, Art Works received a grant to expand its free art classes to anyone 55 and older through its Creative Aging Program. “For our free Creative Aging classes, we have people ages 55 or better from Prince George’s County, across Maryland, and even other states,” said Aimee Olivo, Art Works executive director.
Art Works’ Creative Aging classes, which typically have just nine to 18 students, are very popular and fill up quickly, according to Olivo. Art Works usually offers six Creative Aging classes each season, ranging from eight to 10 weeks. This winter, Art Works is offering two in-person, three virtual and one hybrid class. As of late January, five of the six winter Creative Aging Program sessions — including the clay, watercolor and creative writing classes — were all full.
Hyattsville is Home classes, which have no more than 12 students, differ from the other Creative Aging classes in that they are only open to Hyattsville residents and offer a different class theme for each session. The classes run for eight weeks in the fall and spring. Hyattsville is Home participants can also register for Creative Aging classes.
During the initiative’s fall 2022 Wear Your Story series, participants created hats and vests, which they presented during a December 2022 runway show.
Olivo said, “They [the participants] used all kinds of different materials to create expressive hats and vests that really expressed and shared who they are with the world.”
Winifred Weaver, who has lived in Hyattsville for 10 years, said the vest she created represented the 1960s protests against the Vietnam War.
“So the whole front part of my vest deals with war, peace, the anti-war movement,” Weaver said. “There’s a picture of the crowd heading from the [Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool] to the Pentagon, and I was part of that march.”
Creative Aging and Hyattsville is Home classes not only provide participants with new creative outlets but also help them build lasting relationships.
“We’ve watched them build friendships through the course of the class, and we’ve watched them open up and find something in themselves that they may not have known,” said Taylor.
Participants especially appreciated the classes during the pandemic lockdown, according to Olivo.
“They’ve said that this program literally saved their lives. I mean, some of them were just so lonely and so isolated,” Olivo said, noting that even the virtual connections the students established through the program online during the pandemic were helpful.
Retired lawyer Rosezella Canty-Letsome was in the Hyattsville is Home program until the pandemic, when she moved to University Park with her daughters. She now participates in virtual Creative Aging classes. Canty-Letsome has taken watercolor painting, improv acting and multiple drawing classes and explained that the classes have allowed her to more fully engage the creative part of her brain.
Taylor said studies show that the process of creating art from scratch with your hands keeps the brain sharp, ultimately improving overall health and wellness. According to the National Institute on Aging, art classes are a way older adults can maintain an active lifestyle, which can lead to a longer lifespan, increased happiness, and a decreased likelihood of heart disease.
Hyattsville is currently the only Maryland city that has a partnership with Art Works. Taylor wants to expand the city’s partnership with Art Works to add shorter class series in the winter and summer.
“They really look forward to it,” Taylor said. “And they really enjoy doing it. So we want to offer it as much as we can.”
For more information on the Hyattsville is Home initiative Creative Aging classes, visit artworksnow.org/creative-aging.
Torrence Banks is a journalism graduate student at the University of Maryland.