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Queens Chronicle

From senior center to art playground

Older Queens residents display original work in South Ozone Park

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Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Jul 3, 2014.

Walking down one of the hallways at the Rockaway Boulevard Senior Center in South Ozone Park, you might mistake it for an art museum.

It wouldn’t be far from the truth as the seniors at the center through public funding created their own art pieces. Their final work was displayed last Thursday, which included pencil drawings, paper collages and written pieces.

This new-found passion was made possible by funding from Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide. The annual program brings artists in residence who teach seniors various art disciplines including writing, drawing and pottery.

The city allocates $200,000 to the SPARC program each year to help fund art programs in about 50 senior centers citywide.

This is the first year the Rockaway Boulevard Senior Center applied, director Pat Bishop said. She was hoping to get a ceramic teacher in, but unfortunately none applied to be an artist in residence.

It turned out, however, to be a blessing in disguise.

The artist in residence and teacher, Ify Chiejina, a painter from Hollis, who specializes in portraits, applied to be a teacher and was chosen from the hundreds of applicants.

For six months, she guided the seniors through different writing programs and focusing on theme ideas in collages. She has taught youth and teens as well.

“I have always had an interest and fascination to talk to those who are seniors,” she said. “For a personal experiment for myself I wanted to see the difference between educating teens and educating adults and seniors. I was happy with those results and with how the program ran.”

“I think it’s really wonderful and we would like to see it continue,” Bishop said. “You can tell when the seniors really enjoy something here. It was six months; it was a long time to keep that element going.”

Sharon Williams, from South Ozone Park, one of the most prolific artists there, created seven collages cut from magazines.

Within her portfolio were her dining room piece, advertising piece and a “him/her drawing.” The drawing was of a nameless famale face with a male torso.

“For a senior group, this is very educational. It gives our mind something to do,” Williams said.

She praised Chiejina and said the collages reminded her of doing cut-outs as a child.

“This is like from your childhood days to your senior days; using your brain creatively,” Williams said. “I feel like I’ve developed a new talent in which I was not aware of that I had. The instructor pointed out things.”

After some of the artists read their short written pieces, Chiejina praised the hard work, time and effort they had put into their craft.

“You guys did such beautiful work. I like how you guys worked together and interacted with each other. I’m really happy with how the program is going,” she said.

CORRECTION: The story originally reported senior centers were given a $2 million grant. The city actually allocates $200,000 to the program. We regret the error.

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