Liz Curtin (right) helps student during a sewing class she teaches at the Carter Burden/Leonard Covello Senior Center. Photo: Christina Cardona
Are you over 60 and interested in exploring your creative side? At the Carter Burden/Leonard Covello Senior Center on 109th St. in East Harlem, there are free senior art classes called Making Art Work.
Covello is one of four New York City-based senior centers in the Carter Burden Network. The purpose of Marking Art Work is to connect the NYC senior community to the arts and art education and provide an opportunity to socialize.
“Our classes aren't the typical senior center art classes, that's the first thing I would say,” said Liz Curtin, a teaching artist at Covello. “We have art classes that are professional level, they just coincidentally take place at a senior center.”
Curtin has been teaching art for over 30 years, specifically working with seniors. She's been with Carter Burden for nine years, along with her colleague and fellow teaching artist Diane Schneck.
“The senior center art programs can be anything from people sitting around crocheting together to a studio class situation, which is more of what we have for the most part,” Schneck said. “They have professional artists teaching all of the art classes, so their skills are really high and varied and they just bring a tremendous amount to the program.”
Covello has multiple classes a day, and about 25 per week. They include classes in painting, quilting, clothing construction, doll-making, drawing and many more.
Schneck said it's been proven how beneficial creative activities are, especially for people as they age. She said art can bring people together, and isolation is always a big fear for older adults. She also said there have been studies showing that learning something new can help prevent dementia and other cognitive issues.
“When you're doing something like making a quilt, you have to make decisions, you have to envision what it's going to look like, you need to be able to conceptualize things and then put them into practice,” said Curtin. “It's a lot of hand eye coordination. They all contribute to good cognitive health.”
Curtin said another benefit from these senior art classes is that it gives the senior students self-esteem.
“There are people with physical issues, thinking they can't do anything, and we'll show them something they can do, and they get a lot of perks from doing that,” Curtin said.
Gloria Rivera, 82, has participated in art classes for four years. She said she joined the center because she was interested in Zumba classes. She went back to college later in life, and earned a degree in art history and studio art. So eventually she wanted to take the art classes.
“There's a variety of art classes here that are wonderful and have wonderful teachers,” Rivera said. “There's a variety of things to do here, and that keeps you stimulated.”
Participants in the senior art classes sometimes donate their handmade items to charities. They made purple baby hats to support awareness for infant crib death, knitted hats for the American Heart Association and made blankets for the Animal Care Center nearby.
Seniors who want to join can go to Covello and become a member. All of the classes are free for members. For more information go to carterburdennetwork.org/making-art-work.