‘Art of Aging’ paints important picture of keeping seniors connected to the community

‘Art of Aging’ paints important picture of keeping seniors connected to the community

Photo provided by Jay Silberblatt
Photo provided by Jay Silberblatt

If a picture tells a thousand words, then the paintings offered at the Jewish Association on Aging’s Sept. 15 event at the Heinz History Center tell millions of words.

“We provide approximately $3 million, or approximately 10 percent of our budget, in charity care every single year [to] the Quality of Life and Benevolent Care Fund [which] was established several years ago to address the increasing need to support seniors under our umbrella of services who outlive their assets and have very limited resources,” said the organization’s director of development, Beverly Brinn.

The Art of Aging event welcomed 325 guests who showed their support for senior care while blowing past JAA’s goal for its Quality of Life and Benevolent Care Fund, “a record for a JAA event,” Brinn said, adding, “The community response to the event was really exceptional!”

The event highlighted senior care and best practices for safety and happiness as a continuum.

“The idea of aging is not just a topic for those 65 and older anymore,” Brinn said. “The JAA is challenging community members to consider the aging experience in the same way we engage in the conversation about the sustainability of the planet.

“We all have a stake in the outcome,” she added, “no matter what our age.”

Brinn said that planning for the future is a social issue that unites all ages and that ostracizing and marginalizing elders is not acceptable.

Early this past summer, a handful of young JCC J&R day camp artists ages 3 to 10 years old were asked to paint a picture depicting the theme, “What does old look like to you?” Three of the artists’ works were selected to be presented at last week’s event. Zoey Zuckerbraun, Annie Cowan and Kennedy Crawford were the winners of the contest sponsored by the JAA, with two of the young people painting their relationships with their grandparents.

In addition to the youth works, 3 Painters, a performance group that creates celebrity portraits in a speed-painting style, served as the evening’s entertainment and creators of auction items up for grabs to the night’s guests.

“The [group] created incredible celebrity portraits and iconic Pittsburgh images in less than 10 minutes per piece, with each vignette set to music performed by two live vocalists,” Brinn said. “It was so entertaining and awesome to watch [as guests] wondered who was going to emerge from the splashes of paint and the broad brush strokes at the end of each performance.”

Emerging portraits included John Lennon, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Andy Warhol, Franco Harris, Mario Lemieux, Barbra Streisand and the grand finale, the campus of the JAA.

The fun nature of the event allowed for “excitement and lots of laughter but even more important, raising awareness to the message we want to leave our guests,” Brinn said.

To recast the lens on the picture of aging, Brinn said the JAA, and the community at large, needs to be aware of the ways medicine is changing to keep all people active and healthy for longer. The facilities and services the JAA offers daily to its 1,000 residents — many of whom are Jewish and half of whom are on financial assistance offered through the Quality of Life and Benevolent Care Fund — must also keep the pace.

“We are forging many new paths at the JAA,” Brinn said.  

The JAA is also implementing an integrated electronic medical records system, connecting all entities under the organization’s umbrellas of services, as well adding a program that allows dementia patients to remain at home while offering respite to family members.

“These are just a few of the services that make a best-in-class community in which to age,” Brinn said. “We want to keep our elders connected to the community, leading busy, active, rich, full lives for as long they are able with the support services wrapped around them for as long as they need it.”

Bee Schindler can be reached at beeschindler@gmail.com.