A recent $15,000 Grant to the Office of Public Art for Art and Senior Citizen Engagement in Larimer aimed to connect and engage the Larimer Seniors Group through John Peña’s continued artist residency by holding monthly luncheons, planning field trips to cultural institutions around the city, and designing new public artworks together. However, the onset of COVID-19 and physical distancing requirements called for a new way to continue the project and keep the group connected during the pandemic.
Beginning in 2016, The Larimer Seniors Group and Artist John Peña began collaborating on a temporary work of public art as part of our Temporary Public Art and Placemaking Program (TPAP) in partnership with The Office of Public Art. The project, “Larimer Stories,” consisted of an exterior display structure with removable text that changed every two weeks. The text shared stories from the oldest residents in Larimer about their lives in the neighborhood. Each story unfolded over a series of months while the seasons framed the gradually paced narrative. By 2019, the project had evolved into more than a single temporary work of public art; it became a cherished relationship between John Peña and the Larimer Seniors that has supported the creation of new friendships, ongoing research and exploration of art, and the collaborative design of potential public artworks throughout Larimer.
John and the seniors began their research for a new public art project proposal in 2019 by taking field trips to cultural institutions and inviting artists to come share their work during their monthly luncheons. However, when COVID-19 hit, and shut downs and social distancing recommendations began, Peña had to adjust the current plan in light of safety regulations.
So, he created a newsletter as a way to keep all the seniors connected. The inaugural issue called, “The Larimer Times,” focuses on how their lives are being affected by the pandemic. The interviews took place by the phone in mid-April 2020 and socially distanced photo shoots occurred shortly thereafter. Additionally, in order to simulate their regular luncheons, John even delivered boxed lunches to the seniors twice a month!
Future newsletter topics will focus on creative ways of maintaining connection. Loneliness and isolation are already a challenge for an aging population and it is amplified by the social and physical distancing needed to minimize the effects of the pandemic. The newsletter, lunch deliveries, and regular contact are effective ways of making sure the seniors feel connected, valued, and heard.