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For old-timer's sake: The Polygon's new program puts seniors first

The program series will offer varying activities and will run once a month until the end of the year.

They say age is just a number, yet all too often it is age that determines whether a social calendar is bursting at the seams or crying out for a rendezvous. Usually it is not for lack of trying or desire, instead more so because there are few cultural outings available for the golden-agers beyond bland craft classes and stale book clubs.

Enter: The Polygon’s latest offering, Meet Me At The Gallery.

Dedicated to enriching the lives of adults and seniors in the community, the daytime art program is part workshop, part social mixer – a monthly get-together inspired by the gallery’s current exhibition. The program will run on the first Wednesday of each month, every month for the rest of the year.

“I feel as though we have got so much programming to serve many members of the community, but we don’t have a lot for seniors,” said Joelle Johnston, the gallery’s Indigenous liaison and community outreach, and curator of the event.

“They deserve so much more.”

Johnston is a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) member who says in her culture, elders are “first and foremost.” So the concept of them being so often disregarded in other communities is baffling, she said.

Becoming older shouldn’t be synonymous with throwing away the social calendar. With so much free time, it should be an era filled with new experiences and fun social ventures — without any restrictions or limitations.

“With this program I wanted to keep it open for everybody, because I know it can be intimidating coming into the gallery and not knowing anything about art. This is a welcoming space where anyone can join. I want it to be open, and fun, and a place for people to engage.”

On Wednesday morning, over 30 people in various stages of senior citizenship milled around the gallery’s two floors, socializing, discussing the artworks and listening intently as Johnston gently described each artwork. The first in the series had been a tour of the gallery for them alone, allowing them to pore over photography and peruse the pieces from The Lind Prize collection at their own pace.

Afterwards, the group were invited onto The Polygon’s balcony, abnormally sun-drenched for a January morning, to discuss the artwork and their experience over coffee and croissants.

“I like going to galleries and I like coming down here, so I figured why not,” said 82-year-old Elaine Hunter, as she tucked into her pastry alongside husband Bruce Watt, 81.

“I thought maybe we could meet some new people here.”

Hunter has a shock of dyed blue hair and is quick to point out she is “not old” but a senior – the two aren’t interchangeable. She said it is the social aspect that is the biggest draw to programs like this. The promise of new experience, tied in with the potential of making new friends, is too appealing an offer to pass on. In the end, she said, “it turned out to be a beautiful day.”

At just 60 years old, Anil Mayar was on the younger end of the spectrum of the guests in attendance. Despite being only recently retired, he said he is already struggling to find ways to fill his time — he plays squash and tennis at least three times a week, but has been craving something that is new, and perhaps a little out of his comfort zone.

“I’m a real newbie when it comes to art,” he said, “but I like the idea of still being able to expand my mind to new things.

Mayar, describing himself as being at the “front end of the older generation” said he understands how comforting it must be for seniors to revel in familiar experiences rather than risk trying something new and not enjoying it, but there is so much that can be gained by stepping into the unknown.

“I’ve always said to myself I don’t want to slow down, I don’t want to get in a situation where I’m comfortable,” he said. “Others would do well to take the same approach, I think.”

If Johnston’s plans for future programs are anything to go by, the risk of seniors getting comfortable is an unlikely one. In the summer, she said, a show is planned that will involve video installations of people dancing on screen. As a pairing activity, she is toying with the idea of bringing in a hip-hop teacher.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.