Connecting with seniors through storytelling and art

Elderly Group

Connecting with seniors through storytelling and art

Caption: TOUCH senior Mdm Tan Siok Cheng, 77, and youth volunteer, Mr Fabian Foo, bonding over a craft session. (Photo Credit: Gabriel Goh, Stellar Photography, for ARCH Lab, Nanyang Technological University)

ARTISAN: Aspiration and Resilience Through Intergenerational Storytelling and Art-based Narratives – A Pilot Study by the Nanyang Technological University

Project ARTISAN – which stands for Aspiration and Resilience Through Intergenerational Storytelling and Art-based Narratives – is an intricately-structured and holistic multimodal intervention framework that builds resilience and creates meaningful connections between youth and seniors by bringing them together in museum and community spaces.

Over five weeks earlier this year, 34 pairs of youth and seniors embarked on a journey of inter-generational storytelling and creative art-making at the National Museum. They learnt about Singapore’s heritage, the relational bonds forged by our pioneers, the resilience they displayed while overcoming adversities, and the realisation of their dreams and aspirations.

The youth-senior pairs were then given the opportunity to reflect and share their personal stories of love, courage and resilience through artistic expressions and creative writing. Their art-based narratives were shared with members of the public during a series of mini community exhibitions held in May and June this year.

“The ultimate goal of Project ARTISAN is to strengthen social connections and relational bonds to combat isolation and loneliness, while promoting wellbeing and resilience for building a stronger and more compassionate Singapore,” stressed Dr Andy Hau Yan Ho, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Principal Investigator of Project ARTISAN.

Bridging the generation gap through art
Mr Teddy Tan Hock Soon, 77, from TOUCH Senior Activity Centre in Yishun, was mesmerised by the exhibits at the National Museum of Singapore on 21 June. Accompanied by a youth participant from NTU, Mr Tan reminisced about his past, sharing eagerly about the significance of these items and how he came to know about them.

“I was so happy to see familiar artefacts from the past displayed at the museum! It brought back memories of my younger days,” said Mr Tan.

Caption: Mr Teddy Tan Hock Soon with youth volunteer Ms Ariel Pereira, posing with their art pieces

Caption: Youths with seniors from TOUCH Senior Activity Centre at Yishun proudly displaying their art exhibits

From discovering Singapore’s national heritage to exploring its hope and future, each session began with a guided museum tour, which started conversations between the youth and seniors. They then created their own artwork – together – using a range of art medium, facilitated by a trained artist or art therapist. After the guided art making, they presented their art pieces and shared their stories to the rest of the group.

Caption: Coming together to learn and connect

Youth participants from NTU, Nanyang Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic provided positive feedback as they recounted good experiences of their time with the seniors.

“My partner was always very willing to help others. During the art making sessions, she often made flowers out of plastic bags to use them to decorate the art pieces we made. However, when one team struggled to complete on time, she offered them a few flowers of her own as a replacement,” said student volunteer Ms Denise Lim Ying.

Despite experiencing some language barrier, students noted how the aunties and uncles made an effort to interact with them. They were touched by their love and sincerity through their small exchanges.

“Once I started to open up, I began learning more about Aunty Mok Ah Mui. She is very wise and has a carefree personality – a trait I hope to model as I am quite the opposite,” said student volunteer Mr Amos Tan.

Exploring life experiences
Through Project ARTISAN, meaningful conversations ensued as both students and seniors exchanged notes on what they saw and remembered about Singapore’s cultural heritage. The students were amazed by the stories of antiques that were no longer in production.

Student volunteer Mr Fabian Foo described a particular art piece that he and his senior partner created called ‘Day and Night’. He explained that the piece illustrates the different lives they live as a youth and a senior.

“I learnt about the value of saving and how to spend my money wisely. I feel that this truly showed the different lives we have lived and the things we, the younger generation, have taken for granted,” said Mr Foo.

Participant Ms Violet Yeo from TOUCH’s Community Enablement Project (CEP) emphasised the importance of such programmes, citing it as a good medium for the elderly to explore their creativity.

Caption: Ms Violet Yeo (right) participating in a sharing session at an Ang Mo Kio void deck together with residents and youth participants

“A lot of seniors I have met often tell me they feel lonely. This project helps seniors to express themselves. It also gives them something to look forward to as they get the opportunity to interact with others,” said Ms Yeo.

Caption: TOUCH’s CEP participants with youth volunteers displaying their cityscape model featuring futuristic HDB flats and enhanced infrastructure using vibrant colours and recycled materials