Making Connections in a Time of Disconnect

Portrait of Sue Brown smiling

Last month ARTZ Philadelphia made the difficult decision to suspend our in-person programs for people living with dementia and their care partners. While our ARTZ at The Museum and Cafés for Care Partners programs shifted online with relative ease, ARTZ in the Making proved to be more challenging. How could the in-person relationships and the multi-sensory art-making experience translate via Zoom? While Sue Brown, the lead facilitator for ARTZ in the Making, set out to tackle this challenge, she also saw the immediate need for personal protective equipment.

Sue dusted off her thirty-year-old Singer sewing machine and began sewing masks for essential frontline workers. Not only was she making masks for healthcare workers, Sue was crafting masks for a care community ARTZ Philadelphia serves and whom we miss tremendously. Sue collaborated with her close friend and ARTZ Philadelphia donor, Ann Spinner, to create masks for essential staff at Holy Redeemer. The fabric used to make masks was previously donated to ARTZ in the Making for a weaving project. The fabric strips were too small for weaving, but the perfect size to make fabric masks.

Before our in-person programs shifted online, Sue led ARTZ in the Making at St. Joseph Manor, Holy Redeemer monthly. Sue has forged beautiful and nurturing relationships and connections with residents, staff, and volunteers at Evergreens, the unit for residents with dementia at St. Joseph’s Manor. Staff members look forward to Sue’s programs because when the residents see her or hear her voice, their mood changes instantly. Sue’s kind and loving presence makes a tangible impact on their quality of life. So while Sue continued to sew fabric masks for the community in her home workshop, we at ARTZ had to figure out a way to transform her unique physical presence to a very virtual world.

An array of colorful masks

Sue led her first virtual ARTZ in the Making program for Evergreens at St. Joseph Manor on April 1 with great success. The group was small and the program was more intimate than typical ARTZ in the Making programs. But as soon as residents heard Sue’s voice and saw her face (on the activities director’s cell phone!), smiles flooded the room. Residents were proud of the work they created and showed Sue via Zoom. They were laughing and talking about their art work, but also enjoying each other’s company. While the world may look radically different right now, the smiles on the residents’ faces looked the same. Only one thing was missing: volunteers.

Just as Sue had done in relation to fabric masks, she identified another need: a way for volunteers to remain engaged with ARTZ Philadelphia. Students from the Penn Create club had volunteered with Sue in February. She had led the students through a hands-on art-making session during which they all created hand-painted and decorated papers. The beautiful papers were to be used by program participants to make other works, and used by ARTZ staff to make note cards that are sent out to our community members with handwritten notes. Sue does this paper-making project with residents in care communities as well, but is now thinking about how we can enable volunteers and community members to participate in the joy of art-making at home, using what they have in their cupboards instead of more typical art supplies. During a time when many of us are focused primarily on the digital, we at ARTZ are finding analog ways to stay connected to our communities, especially those in our ARTZ in the Neighborhood projects.

An abstract illustration on paper using warm colors and greens
Two abstract illustrations on paper with circular motifs, using warm colors, greens, and golds

If you are interested in making paper that we can use to create cards for our community members, e-mail and we will find a safe and secure way for you to make the most of your resourcefulness and creativity at home.