The nervousness came from both sides of the room.
When 13 Grade 11 students from Glenlyon Norfolk stepped inside Shannon Oaks retirement home, they didn’t know what to expect of the relationship they were meant to develop with a handful of elderly residents. Nor were the residents sure how they could relate to the teens.
“Initially there was a lot of trepidation, I think, on the students’ part,” said Leonard Butt, art teacher and counsellor at the senior school. “It was all new to them, going to the seniors home. They weren’t sure how to relate to seniors.
“I think there was some awkwardness on both ends about how to relate to each other, just of what to talk about.”
Through six meet-ups, the students and seniors got to know each other by sharing their stories and building relationships. Then the kids were assigned an art project: portraits.
Years ago, Butt dreamed up a collaborative project between his students and seniors in the community. Initially, he imagined the two age groups working on a mural together, which could stay in a seniors home.
“Then I thought, so, what about a portrait?” Butt said.
Across the Generations is an exhibit that stems from the student-senior interactions and the art produced from those relationships.
Butt, an artist himself, tapped into his connections at Oak Bay’s Red Art Gallery, where he has exhibited in the past. The gallery’s owner, Marion Evamy, and director Bobb Hamilton, were keen to show the students’ portraits.
“These kids are pretty talented,” Evamy said. The show includes the students’ portraits of the seniors, plus photographs, sketches and journals, the latter of which “describe what the kids were feeling while they did these portraits.”
The exhibit “picks up on the fact that here (the students) are entering their adulthood while the seniors are kind of exiting theirs.”
The school had worked with Shannon Oaks before, doing musical and choir performances for residents. So when Butt approached the home, staff had no problem finding volunteers who were willing to be part of the cross-generational project.
“Some of the seniors were really quite curious about learning about the students’ stories,” Butt said.
He added the project was “bittersweet at the end” when the two groups parted.
Across the Generations is showing now until Oct. 29. Red Art Gallery, at 2033 Oak Bay Ave., is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m.
For more information, call 250-881-0462 or go to www.redartgallery.ca.