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The Healing Arts: In the Time of COVID, Helping Seniors Tell Their Stories

An art class looks at a painted scroll

Spica Wobbe (center right) in "Scrolling through Life," a workshop with seniors.

“Using a puppet as a medium to tell a story is extremely powerful because the puppeteer and the audience both have to use their imagination to bring the puppet to life,” says Spica Wobbe (MA ’03), an educational theatre alumna.

Before the pandemic, Wobbe, a puppeteer, and her partner, Karen Oughtred, a theatre artist, brought the imaginations of senior citizens to life through The Memory Project, an in-person, hands-on visual arts workshop. The classes, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, helped its participants transform their memories into stories through puppetry, stop-motion animation, and pop-up books.

“The workshop is a safe and non-threatening environment to look at the past and make something new from it,” Wobbe says.

Sharing ideas, artwork, and stories can help us build community and overcome social isolation.

Spica Wobbe, educational theatre alumna
A pop-up card of woman in wheelchair pushed by man

Spica Wobbe made a pop-up card, inspired by a trip to Taipei with her husband and mother.

Seniors begin with the prompt, home, which can bring up a place in the past, present, or even the dream home in a student's imagination.

"One senior’s granddaughter just moved to the West Coast and now lives in a new house. To express her love, she created a  book filled with pages of different rooms she designed for her granddaughter," Wobbe says.

Family tradition frequently shows up in the work. One senior-artist created a three-dimensional boat and Zongzi (a sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves), as her way of recreating the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. She wanted her children to be able to remember the tradition and the fun they had making Zongzi together for the festival.

Some seniors used the assignment to recreate a historical image from their past. One senior documented the time when she had to cook the family’s meals over a charcoal burner, another made a TV set in her living room showing a nuclear bomb dropped in Japan, an event she lived through as a four-year-old.

Today, Wobbe and Oughtred are offering The Memory Project remotely. The team has created videos showing how to turn recycled materials and family photos into 3D cards. The activity is fun, therapeutic, and good for the environment.

It's also provides an artistic record of life during quarantine.

"Sharing ideas, artwork, and stories can help us to build community and overcome social isolation," Wobbe says. 


How to Make a Pop-Up Memory Card

Related Programs

Educational Theatre

Build on your performing skills and learn to create transformative theatre arts programs in schools, cultural institutions, and community settings.

Art Therapy

Our MA in Art Therapy integrates psychotherapy and visual arts practice that engages the creative power of art for clinical assessment and treatment.

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