Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Why Does This Housing Complex Have Seniors Reaching for a Paintbrush?

January 2, 2015
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Why Does This Housing Complex Have Seniors Reaching for a Paintbrush?
EngAGE provides arts, wellness, lifelong learning, and intergenerational programs to affordable senior apartment communities. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
EngAGE unlocks the inner artist in everyone.

For some seniors — especially those who’ve engaged in the arts all their lives — watching TV or playing shuffleboard or bingo simply doesn’t qualify as stimulating entertainment.

That’s why the nonprofit EngAGE is bringing all kinds of high-quality arts activities, from painting to theater, to affordable senior housing complexes in southern California. The group even spurred the creation of several unique arts colonies just for seniors: the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, the NoHo Senior Arts Colony and the Long Beach Senior Arts Colony. These housing complexes ensure that residents’ lives are enriched with arts through such activities as theater groups, a fine arts collective, music programming, an indie film company and an intergenerational arts program that brings in the kids in from the Burbank Unified School District to create art with the seniors.

EnGAGE founder Tim Carpenter worked in the healthcare industry when he teamed up with housing developer John Huskey to build this new type of senior living community. To start, they offered a creative writing class at one housing complex. From there, the reach of their services expanded, touching people who don’t live in the retirement communities, but are attracted to the arts programming that they offer.

“You have this great synergy of the physical amenities with the intellectual ones,” Carpenter tells NEA Arts Magazine. “And so that tends to be powerful within the community itself. It also becomes an attractor to people from the outside community…to have a place where people want to go to learn because it’s a beautiful building and there are interesting people living there.”

Caroline McElroy is an artist “in permanent residence” at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony in North Hollywood. She teaches a weekly collage class that’s scheduled to run 90 minutes, but often ends up lasting for hours as seniors get lost in their creations.

McElroy says that the Colony “is a place of possibilities. My son-in-law goes, ‘So how long do you plan on living here?’ and I said, ‘Honey, they’re going to have to carry me out of here.’”

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