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We're Still Here

Mon, Dec 23, 2019

Ashley Holmes

Ashley Holmes - Marketing & Brand Coordinator

Community Interview: We're Still Here

In our current exhibition, We’re Still Here: Stories of Seniors and Social Isolation sheds light on this local crisis and gives visitors the tools to help. And we partnered with over 180 seniors, advocates, and organizations to create this show from scratch.

Over the course of seven months, the group brainstormed big ideas, worked with local artists to creatively articulate the issues and talked about ways the public can help. Every meeting kicked off with a room full of passionate people opening up about their day-to-day reality.

Get to know some of the people involved. Today we interviewed...

Francis Garcia: I’m a gay elder and have had a love affair with Santa Cruz since early childhood, finally making a home here as an adult. I danced in the monthly performances inside the exhibition choreographed by Cid Pearlman.

Gina Orlando: A couple of years ago I quit my career in biotechnology to start a photography business called Beyond the Portrait and from there my camera sharing program, "Pictures That Give," was born. In a nutshell, my camera share allows people to tell their stories visually, using cameras that I loan them.

Mike McConnell: I am the Director of Adult Services for the County of Santa Cruz. Adult Services is part of the Human Services Department and our team connects vulnerable adults to services and provide case management to improve their quality of life.

How did you get involved in the creation of We're Still Here?

Francis: When the Diversity Center announced that volunteers were needed to support the “We’re Still Here” exhibit, I was intrigued by the concept of an exhibit focussed on the challenges of being an elder in the community.

Gina: I was working on a camera share with the Downtown Streets Team and one of the members brought me a job ad for the C3 group. I think she was meant to apply for the job herself, but she was adamant I was the perfect fit. I am forever grateful to her because I had not been previously aware of the C3 group, and this tremendous opportunity is something that will always stay with me.

Mike: After the Lost Childhoods exhibit, I spoke with Ellen Timberlake (my boss) about senior isolation and loneliness. Ellen and Nina decided that the next exhibit should focus on senior isolation and loneliness. Ellen and Nina asked me to be a key partner due to my experience working with seniors experiencing loneliness and isolation.

What has been your favorite memory surrounding this exhibition?

Francis: Performing Cid Pearlman’s moving choreography became an unforgettable experience.

Gina: All of it has been so memorable but one thing that stands out is showing Diane, one of the seven seniors I worked with, her portraits after our shoot. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said "I've never been pretty before." It was the moment I knew that following my dreams was the right path for me.

Mike: My favorite memory was taking a four-generation family group on a tour of the exhibit (mother, son, grandfather, great-grandfather) through the exhibit with Jeff. It was incredible to see how each of them was touched in a different way and moved by the exhibit. I have led tours for several other people as well. I have yet to find someone who wasn’t moved by the exhibit and who didn’t want to do something to address the problem. We live in such a wonderful community.

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Why did you want to be involved in this project?

Francis: My decision to become involved in the We’re Still Here has been part of my regimen to combat loneliness and isolation in my life and to grow as a creative human being. I see the exhibit as a sincere effort to understand what its like to be an elder in America.

Gina: Giving someone a voice is a powerful experience for both the storyteller and the audience, and that's what my camera share does.

Mike: I wanted to be involved because my teams and I work with lonely and isolated seniors every day. I have seen how lonely and isolated seniors are much more vulnerable than seniors who have good social connections. I knew we had a caring community, and I was looking forward to educating people and figuring out ways to engage them in solutions.

What does this exhibition mean to you?

Gina: There are a lot less lonely seniors in Santa Cruz and bravo to the MAH for getting so many of them involved with this project. But this exhibit also means that there a lot of seniors out there that don't have many resources or options. It's a hard reality to face, especially when you meet some of them and learn their stories.

Mike: To me, the exhibit represents “hope” that communities can solve social issues when they work together.

What do you personally hope guests learn from or feel after visiting the exhibition?

Francis: Those who have experienced “We’re Still Here” should come away with the realization that growing old will mean the loss of loved ones, physical and possibly mental abilities, and that these losses need to be recognized and addressed by society.

Mike: I hope families do better planning to take care of their aging members, and I hope people decide to help make a difference in reducing isolation and loneliness for everyone.

Gina: I hope people who come to the exhibit will feel something for a long time afterward and I hope these feelings will compel them to do something: make a phone call, check on an elder relative or friend in their lives, or even volunteer with one of the agencies on the Action Wall.

Anything else you want people to know?

Francis: People need to address the fact that the vast majority of them will live to be elders and that creating a richer world for the current elder population is an investment in their own lives.

Gina: I loved being a part of this exhibit and am grateful to the MAH for this experience. I have become great friends with 2 of the seniors I worked with and we get together often for dinner or just to talk.

Mike: This collaboration of art, community and service organizations is the most effective way to make a social change that I’ve seen in my 24-year career (e.g. We’re Still Here & Lost Childhoods).

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