Visual artist and art teacher Donna Pence looks forward to her next class — “Arts and Aging: Art Exploration” — which will be a virtual offering facilitated by Jewish Family Service in Park City.
“It combines a little art history with different types of techniques and ways art is created and covers how it’s critiqued,” said Pence who teaches for the Salt Lake City School District. “It covers principal elements of art and formal art concepts, and gives an opportunity for the class to explore new mediums and focus in on a different style for each different topic.”
The weekly virtual and nondenominatinal program for ages 55 and older runs from 4:15-5:15 p.m. every Thursday starting April 7, and the registration deadline is Monday, March 28. People can register by emailing Emily Christensen, Jewish Family Service’s arts and aging coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The class includes a good free set of art materials, so we wanted to give us enough time to get the materials ordered, packaged up and sent out to participants,” Christensen said.
The class came through a grant from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums for promoting creative programming for older adults, according to Christensen, a music therapist and gerontologist.
“They did a creative aging training session a few months ago, and some of the people who participated included teachers like Donna and other artists who wanted to be trained on how to teach older adults different types of art,” Christensen said. “Participants also included art agencies, organizations and other groups that served older adults, like we do here at JFS.”
The overall goal of the session was to connect artists and organizations so they could come up with class ideas, Christensen said.
“After I completed the training, JFS sent out a survey to the older adults who are associated with our organization and asked them what they wanted to learn, and art exploration seemed to be at the top of the heap,” she said. “I looked at the different artists who went through the training and Donna was someone who did. So I contacted her.”
Pence, who along with her husband Paul Heath and son Zachary Millsap as Homestead Glass, has created an array of public glass-art installations in the Salt Lake Valley, is well-versed in teaching art.
She has taught every grade level from kindergarten to 12 and community education for the University of Utah and is currently a teacher at East High School.
As far as education goes, Pence earned a bachelor of fine arts, with an emphasis in 3D design, from the University of Utah, a master’s of education from Utah State, and culled endorsements and certifications in AP studio art, English as a second language and commercial art. She also has completed the creative aging teaching artists training from Lifetime Arts.
Pence jumped at the chance to work with older adults in the Jewish Family Service program for personal reasons.
“My mother is 95 and living in an assisted-living facility and has always wanted me to teach something like this,” she said. “I did the training, but the facility my mother was living in couldn’t offer the classes because they had a COVID surge. So nothing happened until Jewish Family Service got my name.”
In addition to technique, concepts and critiques, the class Pence will teach will include discussions of aesthetics and themes, and how to place meaning into the participants’ artwork.
“I taught the same course, but a full semester for high school students through Salt Lake Community College,” she said. “The trick is to find a way to whittle it down to eight classes. And since the students aren’t being graded, things need to be organic, because they will all have a larger say in what they want to learn.”
Christensen is happy that JFS is offering the “Arts and Aging” session..
“As a gerontologist, I have learned there is a whole field out there of creative aging,” she said. “Studies have shown that being creative is good for your health in every way. It’s good for your emotions, your cognitive health — if you are creatively engaged, cognitive decline slows down.”
A class like this also improves social connections between participants, Christensen said.
“That’s important for older adults, because isolation is damaging to them on every front,” she said.