Residents exhibit their creative side

Age has proved no barrier for residents at Calvary Haydon aged care home who are showing their artworks in their first public art exhibition.

Creatively Ageing is a collection of 23 colourful abstract artworks created with curiosity and joy by 17 of the residents at the aged care home in the Canberra suburb of Bruce.

Some of the residents live with dementia, some have Parkinson’s Disease and most live with the increasing frailty of older age. All are tapping into their innate creativity and bringing memories to life.

“The exhibition invites the viewer to reflect on age and creativity, and that one need be no barrier to the other,” says Calvary Haydon diversional therapist, Betty Szuromi, who runs regular art and craft sessions for the residents.

“Our resident artists create with pleasure and enjoyment, with movement and colour,” said Betty. “Art therapy can have powerful benefits. They may now be older, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be creative. Residents with very different abilities can still think and act creatively.”

Canberra-based artist, G. W. Bott, who exhibits nationally and internationally, officially opened the exhibition at the Belco Arts Centre in Belconnen. She has seen firsthand the wonderment and joy experienced by the residents, including her electrical engineer brother.

“Tim has Parkinson’s Disease and movement doesn’t come easily for him, but he has really enjoyed it,” she says. “Tim thinks the paint is wonderful, and loves that you can touch it and move it and roll it around. He is still tentative but he loves it.

“I think that process of painting is just as important as the finished product. Creativity for Tim is choosing the colours and carefully spreading them out. Its not just an explosion of movement, there is thought involved. And for Tim there is also the added challenge and benefits of movement in working to get the tops off the paint tubes and squeezing the paint out.”


“You just see the joy and the pride and the wonder – it’s all there in all of the participants,” G.W. says.


In sessions to prepare for the exhibition, Betty invited participating residents to close their eyes and conjure a happy memory and explore the colours associated with that activity or place.

Then comes the fun stuff, and residents are keen to get their hands dirty. First they set about preparing their canvas with a base white paint. “It’s like making a cake and you are putting the icing or the cream on it – and make sure the cream goes everywhere,” she tells them, again inviting memories.

Man in green shirt and white apron is painting on canvas with his fingers

Making cakes turns out to be a new concept to former school teacher, Douglas, but he soon catches on. Much more familiar though to Rosemary, who has written acclaimed cook books.

Next comes choosing colours then residents start dripping and dipping, massaging and swirling their paint. Colour and movement. Memories and joy. Then and now.

Former music teacher and conductor, Wendy, particularly enjoys the process of applying and blending the paint, as well as “the challenge of trying to give it a title”. Very often she hears music as she creates, which becomes her inspiration. “Absolutely I enjoy it because it has opened up (another) creative part of mind, I do believe.”

Nearby, Valda describes her finished work, pointing out the rocks and breakers and waves coming into a sandy shore. “I don’t know who they are,” she laughs pointing to smudges of black. Just people walking along her beach. She is very happy with her work and equally pleased for the residents on either side of her. She enthusiastically and encouragingly lauds their works “beautiful”.

Elderly lady with a blue jumper and white apron sitting and finger painting

“Born without an artistic bone in my body”, Mary says the enjoyment of the creative process was “exceptional”. “I was amazed how my painting ‘River Cliffs’ turned out – I will never be the same again.”

Betty, like the residents, is always surprised and excited to see the results.

The idea for the public exhibition was to not only show the residents what they could create, but to show the whole community and challenge people to think beyond well-worn stereotypes of ageing to see that it doesn’t have to be a barrier to creativity.

“You have to look at what people can do, not what they can’t.”

Creatively Ageing is on at the Belco Arts Centre in Belconnen until 5 February 2023.