Student artist lives in retirement community

 

Ovation Chai Point offers an unconventional program where one college student lives in the senior living center for a whole year, with free room and board, to connect with the residents through arts and crafts.

The artist-in-residence program, in its third year, is open to art students from University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and serves to “bridge the gap between generations,” said Tricia Cohn, executive director of Ovation Chai Point.

This year’s artist-in-residence is Christina Theobald, 27, from Madison. She is a senior graduating in May, double majoring in community arts and urban studies.

Like any new opportunity, there is an adjustment period. “I was at first worried that maybe I wouldn’t fit into this community since I am not Jewish; however, I have met many wonderful people who all treat me like family,” Theobald said.

Theobald sits in her open studio in the lobby level and hosts monthly creative workshops for the residents. She characterizes herself as “a crafty person.”

The crafts are in a variety of mediums such as painting, printmaking and writing projects.

“I had to learn how to make the activities more accessible for people with physical disabilities. It was a whole new world to adapt to and learn about,” Theobald said.

Apart from the workshops, she is in the studio twice a week where residents come and watch her create art and work on their own projects.

“Art is therapeutic. People here who haven’t drawn in 20 years are drawing again,” Cohn said.

Story-telling and listening is the heart of the program. Residents who may not have many regular visitors can take this personal time to talk with Theobald. “It’s fascinating to hear the residents’ life journey. They always have so much to say and so much knowledge,” Theobald said.

Being in this program is also a personal achievement for Theobald and it will positively affect her future opportunities.

“It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Residency is such a big goal as an artist,” she said. “Living in a Jewish home has given me an opportunity to learn more about Jewish traditions and religious practices, which has all been very fascinating.”

Theobald notices that the retired community is not a fast-paced world. “I have learned a lot about the art of slowing down and patience. It’s helpful in all aspects of my life,” Theobald said.

The program is a partnership between Ovation and the University of Milwaukee Creative Trust, led by UWM Professor Anne Basting. Cohn envisions the program’s expansion in the coming years to include students from other departments, such as history, music and psychology. “This program provides students with insight to the aging process and increases self-esteem,” Cohn said.

Theobald’s stay is coming to an end. “It will be really hard to leave because it’s a tight-knit community; definitely feels like my home.”