Local seniors create exhibit for art & history museum

SANTA CRUZ—Opening April 5 at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), “We’re Still Here: Stories of Seniors and Social Isolation” aims to shed light on a local crisis, as well as give visitors the tools to help.

Over 180 seniors, advocates, and organizations created the “We’re Still Here” exhibit in partnership with the MAH.

“When we learned about a growing issue affecting senior health and well being, we felt the MAH was in a unique position to address it,” said Stacey Marie Garcia, Director of Community Engagement at the MAH. “We’re all about creating connections and hope to ignite stronger links between seniors and the larger Santa Cruz County community through this exhibition.”

MAH used a simple but non-traditional strategy to prompt the artists to share their stories: give seniors the power to design this exhibition themselves. For many museums, this is not how exhibition design operates—typically, there is strict curatorial control over decisions big and small, from theming to the title itself.

That’s not how it worked for “We’re Still Here” (a title brainstormed by the group.)

Last September, the MAH reinvigorated the Creative Community Committee (C3), a gathering of 186 seniors, advocates, and organizations that live the issue every day. Over the course of seven months, the group brainstormed, worked with local artists and talked about ways the public can help.

This was the second incarnation of C3 for this purpose; the first was in the 2017 exhibition “Lost Childhoods: Voices of Santa Cruz County Foster Youth” at the Foster Youth Museum, which gathered 100 voices from the local foster youth community for an exhibition of similar structure.

“We’re Still Here” dedicates an entire wall to actions the public can take to help. These include things such as driving a senior to go grocery shopping, translating written materials into Spanish for a monolingual elder, or donating an iPod for entertainment.

These actions were developed with the dozens of organizations participating in C3, among them The County of Santa Cruz Human Services Department, Seniors Council of Santa Cruz County, and Community Bridges.

Visitors will be given the chance to explore 45 actions on a wall of business cards that contain ways to follow up and contact information. If one action resonates with them, they can take a card home to complete it.

MAH connected the C3 group with five local artists and groups: Wes Modes, Gina Orlando, Ry Faraola, Cid Pearlman, and The Pajaro Valley Quilt Association.

Wes Modes met with seniors to create ‘Words of Wisdom’, an audio piece recording their stories. Visitors can hear twenty different stories by picking up a telephone and listening in.

Gina Orlando aimed to empower seniors through photography. She gave each senior a camera and worked with them one-on-one to capture words and images from their daily lives.

Choreographer Cid Pearlman asked seniors to describe what social isolation looked like to them. Inspired by their imagery, she created three physical rooms in the exhibition: a bedroom, a kitchen, and a “room of the mind.” During this exhibition, dancers will be periodically activating these rooms with movement.

“We’re Still Here” opens April 5 and runs through September 22, 2019. For information visit santacruzmah.org.


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