Local Artists Donate Work to Park Manor/Abe’s Garden
by Donna Glassford
“Life is short, art is long,” Hippocrates opined. As to “life being short,” every day hundreds of thousands of seniors cross the welcomed or unwelcomed threshold of a skilled nursing facility or an assisted living community. And as for “art is long,” to many of us home is where the art is. Humans, no matter what age, have a desire for beauty, and there is a need to have access to art throughout an entire lifetime.
The residents of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York, a senior residential campus, are surrounded by art. Imbedded in the Hebrew Home’s communal areas and residential suites is a nationally renowned art collection and the Derfner Judaica Museum. Residents and staff take great pride in and enjoy this stellar art collection. Holdings include artworks by Marc Chagall, Alex Katz, Robert Mangold, Joan Mitchell, Louise Nevelson, Pablo Picasso, Ben Shahn, and Andy Warhol. The art collection was started in the 1960s by Jacob Reingold, a resident of the Home. Mr. Reingold told The New York Times in 1968, “What we wanted to do was to bring the beauty that is art into the lives of the Home’s residents.”
In 2007, Michael Shmerling and a group of local visionaries with expertise in a variety of areas and experience caring for beloved aging family members founded a non-profit organization called Abe’s Garden. The following year, the organization acquired Park Manor, a Nashville independent senior lifestyle community, with the goal of transforming it into a unique, supportive, and engaging independent and assisted living environment for senior adults. In 2008, the organization began raising funds to establish Abe’s Garden, an Alzheimer’s center of excellence.
In the initial planning stages, the design team researched national models of senior residential care and inventoried the variety of life-enrichment programs offered to residents. The arts consistently surfaced as an important programming component that benefited residents and ranked high on resident satisfaction. Research confirms that seniors, including those with dementia, flourish while engaging in the arts. Amir Parsa, educator for the MoMA Alzheimer’s Project, attests that when people with dementia engage with art it allows: “an opportunity for personal growth, an exchange of ideas without relying on short-term memory, opportunity to access long-term memories, new insight into others’ ideas and interests, a means to make connections between individual experience and the world at large, a social setting that allows connection to one’s peers, and a respite, both physically and psychologically.”
In the early days of designing Abe’s Garden, a few art opportunities were identified and integrated into architect Manuel Zeitlin’s building design and landscape architect Kim Hawkins’s courtyard design. Artists included Sherri Warner Hunter, Carrie McGee, Susan Simmons, and Charlotte Terrell. Unfortunately no money was earmarked for other art acquisitions. Inspired by the Hebrew Home’s art collection, Park Manor/Abe’s Garden decided to build an art collection focusing on regional artists. With bare walls and residents to inspire, a targeted letter of appeal went out to some of Nashville’s noted artists asking for a donation of their work.
The appeal resonated, and the artists’ responses were overwhelmingly positive, providing an impressive foundation for the burgeoning collection. Artist John Baeder donated because, “If I can touch someone anywhere, if only a tiny speck of enlightenment, then that makes me happy making another feel the same.”
Physician, artist, and poet Brenda Butka aptly summed up many of the artists’ reasons to participate. “Every human being should live with things that are beautiful, real, and touched by human hands and human creativity.”
Many residents’ artworks will be included in the art collection. A space for an exhibition gallery highlighting residents’ and other local artworks is being planned. To date, artists who have contributed original artwork are: John Baeder, Martha Berry, Brenda Butka, Roger Clayton, Kathryn Dettwiller, Lanie Gannon, Alan LeQuire, Mike Martino, Marilyn Murphy, Julie Sola, Pamela Smilow, Dennis Wile, and myself among others.
More art will be needed to grow the permanent art collection. A curatorial art committee has been formed to vet art donations and acquisitions. Submitted work will be reviewed in accordance with the collections policy.
For information on the permanent art collection program at Park Manor/Abe’s Garden and for information regarding art contributions, contact Beth Zeitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information regarding Park Manor/ Abe’s Garden, contact Judy Given at email@example.com.