Monthly Archives: March 2002

Young and old meet in harmony

The Toronto Star
March 23, 2002

Young and old meet in harmony
by Sarah Jane Growe

They’re becoming tessellations — “arrangements of minute parts closely fitted together” — and it’s happening right here, as we speak, to 50 seniors and students in the old city of York.

Joanne Indovina actually used tessellations to introduce the two generations last fall. Each of her Dennis Avenue Community School Grades 4 and 5 students drew puzzle patterns on a computer-enhanced colour photo, then cut out the parts of the self-portrait to send — in stages — to a pen pal partner at the nearby George Syme 55+ Centre.

“It was like creating a mystery,” says Indovina, whose class was asked to be part of a multi-faceted intergenerational mosaic coming to fruition this week.

The pen pal exchange put the first pieces in place.

Indovina taught the youngsters how to structure their initial letters, which included the first set of photo pieces. Their next letters, responding to the older pen pals, were supposed to be more spontaneous, the teacher says, but “a lot of them had a hard time with that.”

In fact, for Rebecca Gunness, the note from pen pal Dorothy O’Donnell was the first she had ever received from an “older person.” The 11-year-old has a cousin, 26, in England who writes regularly. “But I mean someone really, really beyond my age.” the girl explains.

O’Donnell, 69, just laughs. Her youngest granddaughter is a year older than Rebecca. “I write to Rebecca in the same way I talk to her,” she says, as the pair makes its way to the Dennis Avenue gym for the second practice of a 50-voice choir.

The intergenerational choir is the second layer of the mosaic.

The two sections have been rehearsing separately every week since November — the students singing the melody in the mornings and the seniors singing the back-up harmony in the afternoons.

But the full choir’s “deeply rich, resonant sound,” as school principal Gary Hopson describes it, has been heard only once before. That’s when the pen pals finally met in February, practised their songs and then visited over coffee and cookies.

“It was just like glue,” Indovina recalls.

Linking seniors and youngsters in song is not a new idea. Fran Goldman conducted choirs like this in local schools for nine years, until the funding ran dry three years ago.

“The music is the vehicle that bonds these generations,” she says.

And getting the groups in pairs to write to each other while they are singing together has been integral to the concept of linked choirs ever since it emerged out of New York 12 years ago, Goldman says.

“The pen pal component adds such a dimension of warmth and sharing and excitement to the experience of the singing,” Goldman explains. “There is only so much dialogue you can get going when they meet for 10 minutes.”

Goldman was asked to lead this particular choir by the director of the Avenue Road Arts School. Lola Rasminsky wanted the 50 linked voices to support the intergenerational art exhibit at BCE place, on display until April 5.

Art is the third layer of the mosaic.

It started with an anonymous donor giving Rasminsky money to stage art classes with older people in the old city of York. (“That’s the area of Toronto that interests him,” she says. He has declined to speak for himself, she says.)

Rasminsky sent two of the school’s teachers to work with Syme Centre seniors in a specially created weekly arts-project class last fall. They made a “Cloak Of Many Memories,” a collage reflecting their rich and varied histories. Theirs is the “past” part of the exhibit at BCE Place.

Then she thought she’d get young people to draw, too. Another art school teacher visited selected Dennis Avenue school students a few times last fall, to draw renditions of what they want to be when they grow up. Their visions, “What Children Dream Of,” is the “future” part of the display.

Then she added Goldman, who brought along the pen pal element.

The donor committed up to $10,000 to fund the expanded version of the project, and the writing/singing/art tessellation was born.

Indovina is grateful for Goldman’s musical instruction, which she wouldn’t be able to provide. “She’s not just teaching them songs. She’s teaching them how to breathe. She’s teaching them a technique for learning a whole different vocabulary.”

A Celebration of Lives Lived and Lives Dreamt Of

Press Release
March 17, 2002

A Celebration of Lives Lived and Lives Dreamt Of
An artistic look at the inner worlds of seniors and children

The Avenue Road Arts School, in collaboration with the Symes 55+ Centre, Dennis Avenue Public School, and Ottawa artist, Jerry Grey, will be mounting an exhibit at BCE Place from March 18 to April 5, 2002, entitled: A Celebration of Lives Lived and Lives Dreamt Of. The show will combine the artwork of seniors, children and a professional artist who has created a series of portraits of old people entitled Rare Spirits: A Personal Tribute to Vintage Elders.

Purpose
The purpose of the show will be to draw attention to the inner resources of remarkable senior citizens and, at the same time, celebrate the inner life of children as depicted through representations of their dreams. These two groups have much in common and we can all learn a great deal from their artistic expression.

Intergenerational Activities
The show will afford many opportunities for children and old folks to come together in a meaningful way. The launch of this exhibit at BCE Place will include a performance by an intergenerational choir consisting of members of the Symes 55+ Centre and Grades 4 and 5 children from Dennis Avenue Public School (an inner city school). For the last three months a teacher from the Avenue Road Arts School has been working with the children and seniors to prepare for this event. Even before the two choirs join together, they will participate in writing letters to each other and will therefore connect in a significant way.

As part of the show we would also like to offer weekend hands-on art activities appropriate for both seniors and children so that they could work side by side on producing their own creations. Crayola Canada will provide materials for these activities.

The Artwork
The children’s work will include pieces from the first exhibit of the Avenue Road Children’s Art Gallery, entitled What Children Dream Of, which recently opened at the CBC building on Front Street. The BCE show will include many additional works created by children from Dennis Avenue Public School and students of the Avenue Road Arts School. The seniors’ work represents the culmination of a project that the Avenue Road Arts School has undertaken in conjunction with the Symes 55+ Centre, a drop-in facility for the ‘well elderly’ in one of the highest risk areas of the city, near St. Clair and Jane Street. They have created a Cloak of Many Memories which they have been working on for several months.

Renowned Artist Jerry Grey
Ottawa-based artist Jerry Grey’s portrait series – Rare Spirits: A Personal Tribute to Vintage Elders has been exhibited to great critical acclaim in Ottawa and Vancouver. It includes both black-and-white and colour pastels of many distinguished senior Canadians, including Bill Reid, Doris Shadbolt and Louis Rasminsky. The show is a remarkable expression of the depth and resourcefulness that comes with aging.

Venue
Because BCE Place is such a heavily trafficked area (20,000 per day), we see this as a wonderful opportunity to give people in the business world exposure to the artwork and inner lives of children and seniors in a thought-provoking, engaging manner.

Avenue Road Arts School History and Mission
The Avenue Road Arts School was founded in 1993 with the purpose of offering high quality experiences in the arts to people of all ages in a relaxed and congenial environment. The school has grown from 200 students in the first year to more than 1,000 students at this time. In 1995, the school established a charitable organization, Arts for Children of Toronto, which raises money to provide scholarships to children to attend classes at the Arts School and to fund projects designed to have a positive impact on large numbers of children. To date, several hundred children have attended the school on scholarship.

Previous Exhibits
The last show that the Avenue Road Arts School mounted – a Millennium Project entitled Walking in the Shoes of the Masters; Children Look at Art Through Time, was initially presented at Metro Hall. After a successful ten-day stay, the show was invited to the Atrium of BCE Place. The school has been invited back to BCE Place with carte blanche – this time for three weeks. The last exhibit was sponsored by The Toronto Millennium Fund, the Toronto Community Foundation, C.A. Delaney Capital Management, the Edward Bronfman Family Foundation and Gluskin Sheff + Associates.

This exhibit will have a positive impact on large numbers of people – both participants and observers. It’s an exciting opportunity to promote the value of the artmaking experience in a new context, as well as to showcase the remarkable work of young and old alike.

For further information, contact Lola Rasminsky at: (416) 961-5343 or by email at: lola@avenueroadartsschool.com

The Galleria is open to the public from 8 am until midnight every day, March 18 to April 5, 2002. Admission is free. BCE Place, 181 Bay Street, Toronto.

The dreams of children and seniors

The Toronto Star
March 17, 2002

The dreams of children and seniors
by Aparita Bhandari
Entertainment Reporter

Nine-year-old Jennifer McPherson giggles, her hair spilling down her face, as she explains her dream of flying into a dog place where everything is made of biscuits. She would like to own a golden retriever, but it won’t be till she leaves home for university because her father is allergic to dogs.

McPherson, her brother Matthew McPherson, 11, Kai Broomfield, 7, and Rebecca Di Pucchio, 8, have made eyes with dreams written in them. About a foot long, the eyes are of clay and glazed shiny. Some are open, others half closed.

Broomfield’s eye tells of her dream to fly — on a pony. But in her dream, she crashes. Matthew McPherson dreams of flying and falling, and Di Puccio dreams of becoming a better swimmer.

The dreaming eyes are one of the exhibits of A Celebration Of Lives Lived And Lives Dreamt Of, an exhibition being held by the Avenue Road Arts School in partnership with Dennis Avenue Public School, the Symes 55+ Centre and Ottawa-based artist Jerry Gray.

Several of the Avenue Road Arts School’s classes have contributed to the exhibition, which will start tomorrow and run through April 5 in the corridor of BCE Place.

The children are sitting around a table in the attic of the Avenue Road Arts School. “You have to see this,” says Lola Rasminsky, the founder and director of the school, leading the way into a washroom that’s been converted into a magical fairy town. “We change the theme regularly.”

The arts school started out in Rasminsky’s Toronto house in 1979. Then it had six students. Now it holds classes for 1,000 students, ranging from preschoolers to seniors.

A short while ago Rasminsky worked on an outreach program teaching art to seniors and children. “That made me think about bringing (the two groups) together,” she says.

Rasminsky’s first thought was an inter-generational choir.

But then, she delved into organizing an exhibition of paintings, pottery and other crafts to “celebrate lives lived and lives dreamt of.” Besides the dreaming eyes, classes have made dream beds, dream boxes and dream pillows. Some children made artwork about nightmares.

“We don’t try and patronize them,” says curator Irene Luxbacher. “It’s not about being perfect. We let them explore what they feel.”

Additional work created by children from Dennis Avenue Public School is included in the children’s section called What Children Dream Of. The seniors’ work was created as a joint project between the Avenue Road Arts School and the Symes 55+ Centre and is titled Cloak Of Memories.

Gray’s portrait series, Rare Spirits: A Personal Tribute to Vintage Elders, will also be on display. Rasminsky was familiar with the series, which started with Gray’s painting portraits of her father.

Gray’s paintings depict the pain, vulnerability, spirit and determination of the people she painted. The artwork of the students of Rasminsky’s school shows unfettered creativity.

Both are examples of the ability to step outside a comfort zone.

“I think we can learn a lot from both seniors and children, these groups that are normally marginalized,” she says. “My own father lived till he was 90 and taught me a lot. And children. They are willing to try everything.”

Lessons to Master Business

The Globe and Mail
March 11, 2002

Lessons to Master Business
LOLA RASMINSKY writes that a pianist’s advice
can apply to management practices

While attending a master class in piano performance by well-known Vancouver pianist Robert Silverstein recently, I was struck by how transferable his advice was to non-musical settings. Had I not been sitting in the concert hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, I could have well imagined myself taking in a lecture on leadership or strategic management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

I have always been intrigued by how much business executives can learn from artists about how to conduct themselves within a corporate context. In the business world, there is a premium on the ability to “think differently.” Who could teach us better than the people who spend their time creating, namely successful artists of any kind?

Mr. Silverman’s master class could easily have been a lesson in how to make sure your business goes forward productively. His first questions were: “Where are you going with this piece? Why are you interpreting the piece in this way?” Many management consultants insist that the first order of business for any organization is to clarify and distill exactly where the company is going. What is the vision? What are the important values driving senior management? What will move people to want to come to work in the morning?

Often, companies get into trouble because they oscillate between competing values. Let’s say, for example, they make a commitment to innovation. Developing new products and new ways of doing things becomes a stated priority. But the moment things stop going exactly as anticipated, senior management pulls the plug on the innovation priority and goes back to focusing on the bottom line. And then the cycle begins all over again, leaving everyone confused about what the company is really all about.

Tempo is another theme that crosses over. “Think about your tempo before you begin the piece,” Mr. Silverman insists. “Look at the most difficult passage in the work and assess how quickly you can manage that tempo.” He’s talking about sustainability. There’s no point bursting out of the starting gate at a breakneck speed if you can’t keep it up. How many businesses get into trouble because they cannot keep up with the pace they ambitiously set at the outset?

In this master class, Mr. Silverman often invoked the “imagine” priority. “Imagine a dialogue within the piece,” he suggested. “Imagine a different instruments playing the melody and the inner voices.” When our imagination is engaged, the result will have more energy.

Engaging the imagination is probably the most empowering activity any of us can participate in. The imagination is the one place we have unlimited possibilities to choose from. When we brainstorm to come up with new ideas, we use our imagination. When we go out on a limb to consider new ways of doing things, we use our imagination. When a musician plays a piece of music, it will be much more colourful if the imagination is involved.

Many of us want to pursue excellence in business as well as art, but don’t really know how. Mr. Silverman’s piano master class gives us a good start.

Lola Rasminsky is director of the Avenue Road Arts School in Toronto. She is also director of Beyond the Box, a corporate training program that encourages executives to “think differently” by employing strategies used by artists.