Senior Centers Provide a Bevy of Art Opportunities

As outlined in the April 2012 issue of AgeWise King County, studies have shown that participation in and access to the arts offer great benefits for older adults. From improving cognitive abilities to combating isolation, the arts play a vital role in healthy aging.


The Open Art Group at Central Area Senior Center


A painting from the Open Art Group at Central Area Senior Center


A painting from the Open Art Group at Central Area Senior Center


Weaving instructor Linda Stryker at Southeast Seattle Senior Center


Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Senior Center Hawaiian hula class


Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Senior Center Hawaiian hula class


Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Senior Center Hawaiian hula class


In addition to literary classes, Ballard NW Senior Center has an active used book store.


Sno-Valley Senior Center's weekly Artist's Studio

While many people are aware of programs provided by excellent organizations throughout King County, there is another source for arts activities that may be overlooked. For older adults who want to keep their minds and bodies active, the local senior center may be a "best kept secret."

Many first-time senior center visitors are surprised by the range of members' ages and that those in their 90s are as active as those in their 50s and 60s. Many myths are dispelled when they learn about the variety of social events, fitness programs, and learning and volunteer opportunities.

Arts programming abounds for older adults at senior centers. Creating and experiencing art and culture are widely embraced by members, from Boomers to centenarians. The seven senior centers affiliated with Senior Services offer a myriad of examples that engage community members. Visual art, crafts, music, dance, literary arts and more are available to members and visitors at very affordable prices and even for free.

One of the liveliest classes at Central Area Senior Center is the Open Art Group held every Thursday afternoon. Facilitated by artists and center members, including Kate Barber, Libby Hill, and Jeanie Merlyn, the group allows participants to gather and either work on their own art projects or start new projects led by one of the facilitators. Beginners are welcome and projects include watercolor, drawing, card making, iPad art and more.

Kate Barber, who specializes in creating beautiful iPad art, describes the Open Art Group as "a place for everyone to follow their creative dreams, where no one is judging and everyone is enjoying each other's inspiration." Others add that the Open Art Group offers comradery, since art can sometimes be a lonely venture so it is nice to be able to gather together in a warm and inviting setting to bounce ideas off of each other.

For more than 30 years, Southeast Seattle Senior Center has hosted one of the few weaving classes in Seattle. Taught by Linda Stryker, students learn all about what is involved in this ancient craft, including yarn, looms, wefts and warps. Linda is patient and encouraging, or as one student says, "She makes me believe I am good at this!" Participants travel from as far away as Yelm and Enumclaw to take advantage of this unique opportunity. Classes range from beginner to more advanced, with students sometimes learning to build a small and simple loom they can take home. The program provides supplies, thanks to generous donations of wool, sometimes even fresh from the sheep farm.

Music is a highlight of the art programming at Northshore Senior Center in Bothell. The Northshore Variety Show and Band is a happy troupe of fun-loving, talented and musical seniors who have been performing for one another and for fellow seniors who reside at local retirement homes and nursing facilities for more than 20 years.

The group openly welcomes individuals or groups who would love to sing, play an instrument(s) and/or dance at their rehearsals and performances. They perform evolving shows twice per month on Tuesday afternoons throughout the local senior citizen communities. Other programs include "Guitar, Anyone?", round robin session playing and singing songs from all genres, and all eras, and "Music for Fun," a group making music just for the joy of it, from melody players (violins, clarinets, voices) to accompaniment players (ukuleles, guitars).

Hawaiian Hula is a favorite at Shoreline/Lake Forest Senior Center. Participants travel to the islands through dance in both daytime and evening classes (which also provide an opportunity for keeping fit). Instructor Kathy DeAguiar is a native of Hawaii, a trained Kumu (teacher) with studios in Greenwood, Shoreline and Everett.

The hula is a social art form that introduces dancers to new friends, broadens cultural horizons and helps develop coordination, grace, flexibility and stamina. Dancers learn the motions and steps of a descriptive dance and some Hawaiian vocabulary. As Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Senior Center's Kupuna Dancers, the class often performs at local events like the Shoreline Arts Festival breakfast and the Center's Polynesian Heritage.

Literary arts are a popular option at Ballard NW Senior Center. Claire Anderson teaches a weekly memoir-writing class. Last year, she helped the class publish the book, The Way We Were: Ballard Seniors (available at Seattle Public Library and from local booksellers—the proceeds go to the center). A former English teacher and published author, she says, "I don't charge for the class. It's my way of giving back." Creative writing instructor Penny Hinke's work has appeared in magazines including Sing Heavenly Muse!, Quality Women's Fiction (QWF), and Mslexia.

Senior Center of West Seattle recently started a dementia-friendly class, "Mixed Media Printmaking." Participants experiment with various paint treatments to create unique paper designs and explore printing with natural materials like leaves and potatoes, carving their own block prints or using stamps. The class is designed for persons living with memory loss; friends or family are also welcome. The class is offered in partnership with Lifelong Recreation and Seniors Creating Art.

Sno-Valley Senior Center is starting a monthly program called "Artful Engagement." Every month members will reflect, explore or express themselves creatively in a group, and build tools to use in their everyday lives. The program will have speakers, art projects, vision boarding, guided writing exercises, and more. The new program will be an excellent complement to the weekly Artist’s Studio, where folks bring in their painting or other art project and work together in a supportive and creative environment.

In addition to these classes and groups targeted to older adults, senior centers find that arts programming helps them connect with their larger communities around them. Art also raises funds that support other services they provide.

Central Area Senior Center transforms their dining hall into the Green Dolphin Lounge on the third Friday of each month. From 6 to 9 p.m., ticket buyers enjoy music from local jazz artists like Deems Tsutakawa, a happy hour buffet and no-host bar.

Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Senior Center has transformed their monthly bingo fundraiser into a night of Karaoke Bingo entertainment, attracting both traditional players and a lively crowd of performers.

Trips to cultural events are a big part of the travel program at Southeast Seattle Senior Center. Recent outings have included the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and Tacoma Art Museum.

This past December, Ballard NW Senior Center presented The Irish Tenors Holiday Concert at Benaroya Hall, attracting more than 1,600 music lovers and benefiting six of the Senior Services-affiliated centers.

Visit your local senior center today to learn more about the wide variety of arts and cultural activities available for older adults.

Contributor Karen L. Bystrom directs marketing and communications at Senior Services and teaches Marketing and the Arts for Seattle University's MFA in Arts Leadership program.