Seniors bring art to their peers

Photo Courtesy of Celene Ryan
Showing his artwork is a participant in a class taught by Elder Arts Ambassador program teacher Sallie Sheola.

ORANGE, NJ — Armisey Smith noticed some of the students in the art classes she runs stood out. They had confidence, patience and a willingness to help others — markers of a good teacher. But these were retirees, participants in Arts Unbound’s art classes for local senior citizens, not professional artists.

“I knew from my past work with teens that sometimes people are more willing to learn from a peer and I thought these seniors would do a great job teaching art to other seniors,” Smith said about the genesis of what is now the Elder Art Ambassadors program at Arts Unbound.

With support from the Grotta Fund for Senior Care, Arts Unbound recruited their first cohort of eight seniors a year ago. Over the past year, they have received intense training from Arts Unbound teaching artists in foundational art techniques, creating lesson plans and classroom management. After nine months of classes and practice, they have been unleashed in their communities, offering free art classes to their peers in East Orange, Montclair, South Orange and Maplewood. The Elder Art Ambassadors teach multimedia techniques, drawing and painting to seniors like themselves interested in trying something new, learning a skill and connecting with other seniors.

“My favorite part is how proud people are of the work they create,” teacher Joyce Farr said of teaching other seniors.

“I researched and created a lesson plan for a watercolor class. I never thought I could do something like that,” fellow ambassador Sally Sheola said.

The Elder Art Ambassadors will continue offering free classes to interested municipalities and organizations in the area over the coming year, thanks to another grant from the Grotta Fund.

After that, “we plan to continue the program through donations and public support,” Smith said. “This program shows seniors in a new light, as leaders, as creative people with something to share. We hope the community will support this free program by donating and providing space for classes.”

Donations can be made at Requests to bring an Elder Art Ambassador to your community can be made by contacting Armisey Smith at 973-675-2787 or at