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San Francisco Senior Center’s Collage Collective Inspires Creativity and Connection

By Frank Mitchell, MSW
Program Supervisor, San Francisco Senior Center

The last 14 months of quarantine have challenged us all, and as we closed our doors at the Aquatic Park and Downtown Senior Centers last year, so began the scramble to see where we all fit into this new reality. The intensity of questions, confusion, fear, and anxiety from our members quickly made us realize that our goal as a senior center hadn’t really changed. It was clear that our responsibility to the community was in fact to keep that community together; to continue to provide a positive social aspect to people’s lives; to maintain connections to the outside world, which was now cut off for many; and to remain that touchstone of familiarity for our participants to reach out to for help.

In light of this revelation, we began traveling the very bumpy road of transitioning to remote programming. (I mean, isn’t “Zoom” the sound a cartoon airplane makes?) We began reaching out to our instructors to see if they would join us, and like the cavalry, along so many of them came to help us continue to present art, instruction, and entertainment to our community.

One of those instructors was artist Lola Fraknoi who for the past two years has been presenting a popular collage-making workshop at Aquatic Park known as “Collage Collective.” Lola explains the Collective’s work and her philosophy of meeting our challenge this way:

“In my own art practice, I had already started making a collage a day during the pandemic and getting much satisfaction from it. Collage is a medium where you do not need so much of an art background, where materials are available to the average person, and where the process invites you to be creative in the moment. The participants were all seniors, and most of them had little or any experience making collages.

Each weekly class is divided in three parts. First, I give a hands-on demonstration of different techniques and approaches to collage. Next, I show a PowerPoint presentation introducing the next assignment, highlighting inspiring images by artists who used that particular theme or technique. Finally, each student is encouraged to talk about their work, and then the other students and I express our reactions to each piece and make suggestions for other possible ways to approach it.

We generally have a theme for the week, including ‘Celebrating Women,’ ‘Making Your Vote Count,’ ‘Still Life,’ ‘Inspired by Matisse,’ ‘Self-portraits,’ etc. The series has allowed students to increase their visual vocabulary, to get to know the work of artists from many periods, to get more confident about their own art making, and to establish a community at this time when we all need more connections.”

A couple of Lola’s students shared their feelings about this online art adventure:

“As someone always thirsting for knowledge and new experiences, the Collage Collective fulfills this with each meeting. Through Lola’s suggested ideas and the presentations she uses to demonstrate these ideas, I come to see and know artists and their work through a new understanding. The participants provide an additional layer through their intuitive and creative work. Through this class, I have been inspired to follow my imagination into my own creativity as well as explore different media to create collages. ​​​​​​​

The Collage Collective has become part of who I am through the exchange of ideas, insight and support.” – Juana Smith

“My involvement with the Collage Collective has been so beneficial to me creatively. As a hobby, I have always done collage, but I have never had an instructor nor assignments. By learning more of the process and sharing constructive criticism from the other members, it has “stretched” me in my efforts in this art. It also has involved me in researching the work of professional collage artists that were previously totally unknown to me – widely broadening my interests in this craft.

Lola has really brought out the observational skills of the Collective members individually while uniting us a group. My many thanks to Sequoia Living for making this program available to us virtually during this time of potential isolation. It has made all the difference to me personally during this year.” – Brenda Joyce

We are incredibly grateful to Lola for presenting this workshop not only for art and activity’s sake, but for managing to bring something extremely meaningful to our participants during this time. We’re further gratified by the fact that the students’ art caught the eye of David Jamison, a Sequoia Living board member and resident of The Sequoias San Francisco who is responsible for the art shows that adorn the Art Rotunda throughout the year in that building.

Lola, the students, and our staff were “collectively” thrilled when David offered the opportunity to have their works displayed in the Rotunda.

Take a moment to view some of the wonderful art the Collage Collective members have created during the past year, as well as some photos of the Collective’s art show in the Rotunda.

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