COVID-19: How artists and a housing agency collaborated to reduce loneliness for isolated seniors

Spenard Jazz Fest Messengers played tunes in a parking lot in front of a Cook Inlet Housing Authority residence on Spenard RoadJune 3, 2020 as a way to mitigate the isolation of senior citizens. Performing artists were Rick Zelinsky, saxophones; Mark Manners, guitars; Karl Wihelmi, bass; Barry Johnson, drums. Some listeners gathered in the parking lot; others watched from their apartment balconies. (Photo by Ryan Chernikoff, Cook Inlet Housing Authority)

Cook Inlet Housing Authority serves about 600 Alaska seniors in independent living situations in CIHA buildings. Most are in Anchorage, at Centennial Village and other locations, but others are in Eagle River, Kenai, Seldovia and Nikiski.

According to a CIHA artist call, the agency invited local artists to come up with ways to ease the isolation that hunkered-down seniors may be feeling during COVID-19. This life stage can often be lonely in normal times; during COVID, the nonprofit housing agency worried the issue could be exacerbated for seniors. Working with members of the artistic community is a part of a longer-term strategy of CIHA. The agency has routinely invited artists to come up with solutions it faces as it fulfills its housing mission.

I stumbled on this story hiking in Kincaid. Suffice to say that I met one of the CIHA artists along a trail; she had won a grant for a project through the Supporting Seniors initiative. Christina Demetro created a sculpture called Sunrise Swan that had white, brown and black hands embracing one another in the wings. For summer solstice, the golden swan transformed into two swans (pictured below), one black with a white beak, and one white with a black beak. Their heads formed a heart. The artist and residents also collaborated on a “Love from Alaska” project, according to Demetro. They made over 250 hearts that supported the 213 countries around the world affected by COVID-19. And a dozen of the residents’ stories of resiliency will be included in a photo book that will be placed in a time capsule.

Artist Christina Demetro’s solstice swans, with white, black and brown hands in the wings and some of the 250 hearts created by residents to send love to the world from Alaska during COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Christina Demetro)

Other projects included a live parking-lot concert (pictured above), playing live jazz. And another is a poster emphasizing well being for caregivers and elders, reminding them with 10 prompts about activities that will encourage health. Yet another includes images of CIHA residents included in artwork inspired by the creativity of Tlingit artists.

Bunny Swan Gease’s poster emphasizing well being and 10 ways to achieve it.
(Photo by Bunny Swan Gease)

In today’s program, we’ll learn more about why Cook Inlet Housing Authority looks to artists to help it achieve its mission of housing. And we’ll hear from artists who won grants to help resolve isolation for seniors.

As always, your questions and comments are welcome throughout the hour. Please join us.

HOST: Kathleen McCoy

GUEST:

  • Sezy Gerow Hanson, Cook Inlet Housing Authority
  • Ryan Chernikoff, Cook Inlet Housing Authority
  • Crystal Worl, participating artist from Juneau (pre-recorded interview)
  • Bunny Swan Gease, participating artist from the Kenai
  • Yngvil Vatn Guttu, participating artist from Homer and Anchorage

LINKS

  • Cook Inlet Housing Authority, arts and cultural approach, website
  • Site of former strip club transformed into mixed income housing in Anchorage, Affordable Housing Finance, 7.16.2018
  • Artworks Gallery website, artist Bunny Swan Gease, Kenai
  • Crystal Worl website
  • Trickster Co website
  • ‘Artist invites community to collaborate on crane sculpture,’ Christina Demetro, Peninsula Clarion, May 16, 2019
  • Spenard Jazz Fest website, home of SJF Messengers

PARTICIPATE:

  • Call 550-8433 (Anchorage) or 1-888-353-5752 (statewide) during the live broadcast (2:00 – 3:00pm)
  • Send e-mail to hometown@alaskapublic.org before, during or after the live broadcast (e-mails may be read on air)
  • Post your comment or question below (comments may be read on air
  • LIVE: Monday, June 29, 2020 at 2:00 p.m
  • RE-AIR: Monday, June 29, 2020 at 8:00 p.m.

PARTICIPATE:

  • Call 550-8433 (Anchorage) or 1-888-353-5752 (statewide) during the live broadcast (2:00 – 3:00pm)
  • Send e-mail to hometown@alaskapublic.org before, during or after the live broadcast (e-mails may be read on air)
  • Post your comment or question below (comments may be read on air
  • LIVE: Monday, June 29, 2020 at 2:00 p.m
  • RE-AIR: Monday, June 29, 2020 at 8:00 p.m.