GoldenDecadde

Bihl Haus Arts Celebrates 10th Anniversary of GO! Arts Program for Seniors
More than 400 ‘Goldens’ served each week in 37 classes at 16 locations 

Retiring recently after 30 years with the San Antonio Independent School District, 62-year-old Sylvia Garcia discovered she possesses an unexplored talent: sculpting.

This summer, Garcia was one of dozens of seniors who participated in a ceramics class for a Tree of Life project as part of the GO! Arts program operated by Bihl Haus Arts. “I had never done anything like this before,” said the retired paraprofessional who worked with disabled children. “I didn’t know I had that artistic talent in me. I enjoyed meeting new people and learning new things.”

Founded on the principle that everyone should have access to the arts, Bihl Haus Arts created the GO! Arts Program for seniors in 2007. It began when one of their late gallery docents, Carolyn Patteson Sanchez, who was a resident at Primrose, where Bihl Haus is located, showed interest in taking an art class. By the end of 2007, one art class had blossomed into five jam-packed classes filled by senior artists residing in the independent-living apartments.

“We began to realize something special was happening,” said Kellen McIntyre, Bihl Haus Arts executive director, as she reflected upon the program’s 10th anniversary. “We saw our ‘goldens’ become happier. We could feel a lightness in the room. Some of them talked about using less medication and feeling better and communicating more.”

McIntyre decided to take things a step further and requested a study on the effect of arts on the mental, emotional and physical health of seniors. It was conducted by Dr. K. Jill Fleuriet of the University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Anthropology and Dr. Adelita G. Cantu of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio School of Nursing.

“There is total agreement that the experience [in the GO! Arts Program] has increased the social and mental well-being of the seniors,” Cantu said. “The experience does this by providing social engagement for the seniors, contributes to a sense of empowerment and control over their lives and promotes creativity, which translates into building cognitive activity.”

With tangible statistics on what the arts could do for seniors, other institutions around San Antonio started to take notice of what Bihl Haus was doing, including WellMed Medical Group and city officials who asked McIntyre and her team to provide classes for some of their facilities and city-operated senior centers.

With a staff of professional instructors specializing in the arts, including painting, drawing and creative writing, the GO! Arts program, which won the 2013 Program of Excellence Award by the National Institute of Senior Citizens, started to branch out across the city.

Currently, the free program serves more than 400 seniors in 37 classes per week at 16 locations, including City of San Antonio senior centers (Kenwood, West End, Cortez, Normoyle, Bob Ross and Districts 2, 3, 5 and 10); WellMed senior centers (Lopez, Cisneros, Griffin); Merced Housing (Casitas de Villa Corona and Casitas de Somerset); and Bihl Haus Arts. The program continues to grow: A new pilot program at Grace Place on Nacogdoches was initiated in September for seniors with Alzheimer ’s disease. All of the centers house art exhibitions with artwork created by their senior art students.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of its GO! Arts Program, Bihl Haus will host an opening reception for “Golden Decade” featuring the juried works of seniors at all 16 sites where classes are offered, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, October 20. The theme is 1950s and ‘60s Vegas “Rat Pack” with live music by Johnny P and the Wiseguys. Appropriate attire is suggested.

Robin Gara, 61, has had several of her paintings included in previous Bihl Haus exhibitions through her participation in the GO! Arts program. “I love being with other seniors who have been really inspirational,” the retired middle school teacher said. “I taught art, but never had the time to do art. Since retiring, I started painting a lot at Bihl Haus. I like being part of a community, and that’s what the program is. We’re like a big happy family.”

McIntyre, meanwhile, said the GO! Arts program doesn’t look like anything else in the city or even the country, for that matter. “We never imagined how quickly it would grow, but are thrilled to see it creating new arts communities that were not there before and giving older adults a voice within the global art culture,” she said.

For more information on Bihl Haus Arts and their GO! Arts Program, including class schedules, visit www.bihlhausarts.org. You can also call at (210) 383-9723 or stop by the venue at 2803 Fredericksburg Road during gallery hours from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday-Saturday.