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Shelter-In-Place Can Help Launch Creative Activities

For Release: Monday, April 27, 2020                                     

Contact: Su-Yin Bickner,

Before the pandemic shelter-in-place order was on the horizon, a local nonprofit organization serving the independent aging population had an innovative idea for sparking creativity among its members.


Ashby Village, a membership organization that helps its members age and thrive while remaining in their own homes, had planned to conduct a half-day Creative Aging meeting to showcase the creative efforts of some of its members. The presenters were to describe their personal artistic journeys and challenge their fellow members to find their own creative outlets. Rather than cancel the event when the self-isolation orders disrupted the schedule, the planning group decided this was an even better time for members to stretch their artistic wings, and they set up a Zoom meeting to present the initiative to the general membership. They were convinced that creativity was an important component of successful aging, and they were delighted when 65 members and volunteers mastered the software and joined them online.


“We hoped that any of our members who were actively creating or had secretly always wanted to would want to attend,” says Ashby Village Executive Director Andy Gaines, who was once a dance therapist.  “People who did attend through Zoom commented on how inspirational the event was.” Ashby Village serves Berkeley, Albany, Richmond, Kensington, El Cerrito and Emeryville.


A number of the presenters talked about why the shelter-in-place, characterized by both solitude and anxiety, is an excellent time to explore and launch creative efforts.

Peter Sussman, a retired journalist and author who found his late-life passion in photography, said his work is an “antidote” to the current stress. He said he relished the creative engagement and freedom his photography had provided in times of physical limitations.


Russ Ellis, former Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Affairs at UC Berkeley, and now a songwriter, sculptor and painter, mused about how the corona virus threat is influencing him.  “Being old and in the path of the virus, I felt an urgency to write something for my children about my past.”

During the Creative Aging gathering, Ashby Village member Pat Sakai, who says she reengaged herself as a painter after she retired, told the Zoom audience she thinks what stresses us out currently about the pandemic is what we don’t know about the future.  Her formula for reducing her worrying? “I paint.”

Lisa Esherick, who has been a painter and art teacher for decades, said, “Now is the time, play, play, play.  Let go of your inner critic.” She is driven by a sense of urgency, “Not just the virus.  I realize time is closing down.”


After the Zoom presenters talked about their artistic journeys and displayed samples of their works, Ashby Village members were able to make comments and ask questions. One attendee echoed may others when she said, “This was so inspirational.  There was spaciousness, beyond our usual dimensions.”


Gaines says Ashby Village found it easy to tweak its operation to respond to the current challenge. “We have a network of volunteers who are trained and experienced at helping our members by getting groceries and checking in with them.  And our staff works on coordinating events and activities that will support our members’ commitment to staying active and engaged.”   Besides the creativity workshop the village is also offering yoga, social hours and more. (For information about Ashby Village call 510-204-9200 or visit  ###