This fall, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student Christina Theobald packed up her belongings to head back to campus for another school year, and moved into her new place. She didn’t opt for a dorm or nearby apartment with her peers—instead, she decided to make Ovation Chai Point her home.
Theobald, an art student, was selected as this year’s artist in residence at Ovation Chai Point. As part of a program currently in its third year, Theobald receives room and board, and her own open studio to create art and share it with others.
The program was developed in partnership with the UWM Creative Trust, an alliance committed to fostering life-long learning through the arts, and transforming aging in the process. The group, led by professor Anne Basting, is focused on bridging the gap between generations.
Tricia Cohn, Executive Director at Ovation Chai Point, says that so far, the program has been extremely successful for both residents and students.
“Artists will say they never expected it to be such an amazing experience,” said Cohn. “To see young people living with us, growing and blossoming is very inspiring. They learn why it’s important to know history and to make a difference.”
Residents benefit as well—in the open studio, they are welcome to come observe the artist while they’re working, engage in conversation and even create some artwork of their own. Here, the artists have the rare opportunity to connect with and learn from their elders. So far each of Ovation Chai Point’s Artist in Residence recipients have been art students, but Cohn hopes to bring in students from other disciplines, such as music or dance, in the future. This, she believes, will help residents explore even more forms of inner creativity.
“Being in an urban setting and having the arts surrounding us is one factor that sets Ovation Chai Point apart,” said Cohn. “Everyone has creativity inside of them. When you’re learning and exercising your creativity, that’s when life gets fun and interesting.”
In the Netherlands, senior living organizations have been running similar programs for years, and have found that when elders spend time with youth, they live longer and with better qualities of life. The Artist in Residence program partnership with UWM is the first of its kind in Milwaukee and only the second in the U.S.
“Being around young people keeps us ageless and keeps us going,” said Cohn. “It’s bringing in a different kind of energy. The students and the residents get so close—they become like family.”