The Neon Museum, with generous support from Aroha Philanthropies and Vitality Arts, teamed up with Sprat teaching artists to present the Creative Aging Visual Interpretation workshop series at Ne10 Studio.
Participants from the Doolittle Senior Center joined teaching artists Chase R. McCurdy, Lance L. Smith and Danny E. Titus for an eight-week exploration of painting, photography and art history. The signs housed in The Neon Museum collection helped jumpstart conversations on memory, reflection and the elements of design and color.
“These classes are all intended to challenge and catalyze the act of creation through our seniors…. to be free in the act of creation and exploration as they age,” noted Chase McCurdy, lead Sprat Teaching Artist. “It’s not just about these singular classes, it’s about every one of us being able to embrace this in our everyday lives, no matter what age, no matter what skill level.”
The course began with a visit to The Neon Museum boneyard where students were able to get up close and personal with the colossal signs that make up our one-of-a-kind collection. A tour led by Derek Weis, Education and Engagement Manager, gave context to the more than 200 signs scattered throughout the Museum’s complex. Weis shared stories and fielded questions as Doolittle seniors soaked in the antiquated ambience of the yard. McCurdy wrapped the first session with a poetry reading that connected the signs to the legacy of the Westside, an area of Las Vegas rich in African-American culture and history.
Each week instructors introduced new artistic disciplines and theory through examples of established artists and their works. Students were exposed to the works of William T. Williams, Wassily Kandinsky, Frank Bowling, Carrie Mae Weems, Jacob Lawrence, and others as they experimented with new mediums and techniques. Sprat Teaching Artists encouraged students to get hands-on with paints, markers, colored pencils, pastels and even Polaroid cameras.
“I have always been interested in art. I love art. I truly admire those people that have that vision, but I never had “the vision.” When I came to this class my whole outlook changed! So to see these signs and to be around them, that’s something wonderful to me. They’ve all been very inspirational. Just so much creativity!” ~ Lena Smith, Doolittle Senior Center participant
“After going to The Neon Museum I saw a lot of things that I hadn’t seen in years. I worked on the Strip for about 37 years and it all started coming back together. And when we moved over to the art class that’s when things really began to change. It gave me the opportunity to escape a lot of the things that were going on with me by taking pictures and looking at all the old signs and just reminiscing about things.” ~Martha Thomas, Doolittle Senior Center participant
“What I found out is that you don’t have to be a professional to draw, because that’s what frightened me at the beginning. We don’t have any artistic background or talent, but after I started putting it to paper then it made sense! You know you walk around and you see all these signs but you never think about putting them together yourself. But when I put them together on paper myself they were absolutely gorgeous and it made me feel good.” ~ Phyllis Finney, Doolittle Senior Center participant
“I am in awe of these women,” remarked Sprat Assistant Teaching Artist, Lance Smith. “Their ability to be able to take these materials and run with them. The community that they built amongst each other while they’re at the class. They’re always encouraging each other. When they see someone doing something a little different, they encourage them. I’m just thankful to be able to help make sure that they know that they are artists.”
The series culminated in an exhibition at the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery. Students invited friends and family to see the fruit of their artistic labor and share their work with the community.
“Our sponsor, Aroha Philanthropies, shared a lot of research with us on how seniors encounter so much prejudice, ageism and the fact that they don’t have much access to available resources for continuing education,” stated Jo Russ, Neon Museum Arts Program Manager. “Thanks to our Teaching Artist, Chase McCurdy, we were able to bridge that gap and create a meaningful connection with our nearby Historic Westside senior community. We look forward to deepening that bond and continuing to find unique ways to engage our senior population through the collection at The Neon Museum.”
To hear more from the workshop participants and teaching artists, watch this short video: