Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Art project connects generations

Seniors, youths create mural at apartment house, and learn about one another in the process

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Photo courtesy of Carien Quiroga
Hisnelle Phillpotts works with Melissa Juliet Okaingni of Arts on the Block to create the mural now displayed at Silver Spring’s Elizabeth House apartments.
The generation gap was closed when Montgomery County youth and the elderly came together Aug. 3 to create a 22-foot mosaic in Silver Spring, weaving intergenerational life experiences into one large art piece at the Elizabeth House high-rise apartments.

‘‘There’s a recognition that a lot of times seniors can be isolated from the community, but they have a lot of wisdom to share,” said Susan Yancy, assistant director of legislative and public affairs for the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission, which operates Elizabeth House. ‘‘In this case, art was the vehicle to exchange information that’s beneficial to both parties.”

Arts on the Block, an organization of high school-aged youth artists, got together with senior residents at Elizabeth House, a subsidized residence in Silver Spring. The teens found they had much in common with the seniors, with similar travel stories and experiences in new places.

‘‘They all bonded even beyond sharing their stories,” said lead artist Carien Quiroga of Kensington, who facilitated the project. ‘‘It was an eye-opener. They discovered they had many connections and were very similar.”

The entire art piece consists of 10 panels incorporating the shared life stories into a mosaic design based on the over-arching theme of nature and travel.

‘‘We told all sorts of different stories to get themes,” said 17-year-old Whitley Dowling, who has been a member of Arts on the Block since the 10th grade and graduated from Wheaton High School this past May. ‘‘The theme of travel kept appearing, so we incorporated that into the art.”

Over two weeks, the groups got together for four sessions at Elizabeth House and the Arts on the Block art studio in Wheaton to finish the piece, which will be hung at the entrance of Elizabeth House in the coming weeks.

‘‘There were no difficulties and everything went exceptionally perfect,” Quiroga said. ‘‘Everyone learned about different world cultures.”

The Elizabeth House seniors agreed with the youths about the art, which included images like leaves and clouds.

‘‘I was delighted at how smart they all were,” said Elizabeth House resident Ruby Perry. ‘‘I had never worked with anybody that was so cooperative as those kids. Everybody really enjoyed it.”