Notes from the Field: SU-CASA in action

The following item was provided by Gabrielle M. Hamilton, Director of Education and Public Programs at Flushing Town Hall.

Senior participants from the Elmhurst-Jackson Heights Center select materials to create their first book.

With thanks to the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm, Flushing Town Hall (FTH) Education was able to launch our first SU-CASA in partnership with the Elmhurst-Jackson Heights Senior Center.  This unique program allows FTH to pair our Teaching Artists in senior centers for the creation of arts and cultural projects.

Earlier this  year, FTH Education placed our Teaching Artists Spica Wobbe and Karen Oughtred at the center to initiate The Memory Project.  This project elevates the importance of lifetime storytelling by seniors as the keepers of family tradition, cultural knowledge, and historical information.

During this arts residency, Spica and Karen provide unique programming in literature and puppetry to stimulate seniors’ senses and creativity and imagination.  With each session, participants learn a new skill, such as how to draw a storyboard, create moving images, choose effective keywords, select sensory stimuli, and add pop-up elements to make their book more intriguing.

Memories of childhood homes are tenderly recreated in paper.

Later on, they will be introduced to the basics of using light and shadow, and how to build and manipulate a puppet. Using these skills, seniors create pop-up books and shadow puppet theater inspired by their memories.

Spica and Karen have piloted this program before with much success. Past experiences have shown the pop-up book to be especially helpful when working with English Language Learners.  Personal experiences are conveyed visually without the need for English fluency, although Spica and Karen are well-equipped to work with all populations.

Spica studied with master puppeteers from Taiwan and around the world and has a Masters in Art from New York University.  Spica’s own pop-up book tells the story of her changing neighborhood in her hometown in Taiwan.  Karen is an educator and theater artist who focuses on disadvantaged youth, the disabled, and seniors, and she has a Masters in Art from Antioch University.

The response to this program has been overwhelmingly positive, as the seniors welcomed Spica and Karen warmly.  Karen recently shared this recap of a recent workshop:

As each of our participants holds a treasure trove of special memories, we aim to honor them by documenting chosen ones through this project. Every one of them is an artist with their own way of expressing themselves, so we aim for originality and authenticity.

First attempts at a pop-up book adorn the center.

With eyes closed, our participants pictured their childhood home and were also encouraged to activate their other senses of touch, smell and hearing. Stories of large villas in Peru, village life in Mexico, and city living in Colombia were shared. Next they each sketched their home on colored cardstock of their choosing. Using basic shapes, such as triangles, squares, and rectangles as a guide, participants were instructed to draw a basic outline of their house. Embellishments were added to their designs through collage using colorful textured material. Gardens with exotic flowers and fruit trees, fenced yards, and ornate balconies appeared. After highlighting their house and then cutting it out, they selected where to paste it onto the hinge inside the first page of their pop-up book.

This vital program continues through June and will culminate with an exhibition, storytelling, and reception at Flushing Town Hall’s gallery on June 29, 2017.  Seniors are encouraged to bring their families to the opening and to share their stories through their handmade books and theater. No doubt these books with be cherished family keepsakes.


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