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Teens and Elders Together... Virtually

“A few months into the pandemic we realized that we needed help! Our intergenerational organization had to shift our major 8-week summer teen internship program from in-person to Zoom. I needed to find an artist who could create meaningful art experiences with older adults and teens while building community and developing meaningful cross-generational relationships.  And now we needed to do it all virtually. There was only one person in my Rolodex who I knew could pull this off.  Nancy Katz.

“I trusted that Nancy could figure out how to create a meaningful community art experience online because she has always placed community building at the center of her work. But community building alone wasn’t enough. I knew that I needed a partner who would create high quality art while maintaining a focus on developing relationships. Nancy knew how to do both. She came with real experience working with both elderly and teen populations.

Art supplies sent to participants in the Summer 2021 intergenerational classes.

“Nancy became a valued thought-partner as we navigated an entirely new environment.  She understood that we didn’t have all the answers and she was able to bring her entire life experience into our new reality. She recognized that we were on the cutting edge of a shift to create meaning and community making through art in a virtual environment which, at the time didn’t really exist.  She was excited and enthusiastic about experimenting with us which made it immensely gratifying to partner with her.

“There was no template for what Nancy created for us! For example, we realized that we would have to mail all of the art supplies to participants’ homes. Nancy was willing to purchase, pack and mail all of the materials necessary for isolated elderly participants and their teen partners to participate in her online art workshops.  Nancy understood how important it would be for people in isolation to receive a present in the mail, so she packed the supplies as if they were a gift.

Toshiko, an accomplished artist and educator, shared her doll with the class.
A teen's outer layer is modeled after traditional Russian Matryoshka dolls.
A student in Nancy Katz's intergenerational self portaiture class painted a psychedelic design on her blank Matryoshka dolls.
Marcia included Hebrew on one of the layers of her stacking doll during an intergenerational self portraiture class with Nancy Katz.
Students in an intergenerational self portrature class present during a closing ceremony.

“She also understood that it wouldn’t be enough for participants to receive paper and pencils.  She also packed tea bags.  I will never forget that.  She understood that it wasn’t just about the art.  The intergenerational partners had to drink tea together.  Nancy would pause during the workshop encouraging participants to leave their screens to make their tea, and in so doing she created normalcy. Nancy created the opportunity for people to feel normal when nothing felt normal.  Nothing. She knew how to do it. And she did it. And it had meaning.

“She was willing to ‘play with’ and try all the tools of this new thing that everyone was using called ZOOM.  She realized that she could send people to separate rooms for more intimate conversations.  She learned to spotlight her artists as they shared their work with one another.  She ‘brought in’ contemporary artists talking about their work by interviewing them in advance and then showing the videos in her workshops.

Andrea, a professional illustrator playfully painted her birdhouse.
wooden birdhouse covered with colorful papers & candy wrappers.
Writer Sauda Garrett inspired participants to write about foods that were special to them.

“She curated a musical soundtrack so that while the ‘youngers’ and ‘olders’ were creating art they were listening to beautiful music. She curated the virtual space— just like she curates the space when people are in person. As challenging as it was to think about how to manage this new virtual reality, Nancy wasn’t afraid.  Actually, it was the opposite!  She dug in and made it all work.

Teen participant Julia created a strong messahe in the "Where do we go from Here?" in Nancy Katz's intergenerational COVID class
The book "Outside, Inside" was a valuable tool in addressing truths about pandemic time.

“Nancy Katz was uniquely skilled and prepared to bring the highest level of creativity, innovation and quality to her work with us.  In addition to all of the other characteristics that made Nancy the perfect ‘go to’ candidate for our project, she is also a gifted Jewish educator and was able to bring all of her creativity to bear as she incorporated Jewish history and a taste of Jewish spiritual life into our program in both Jewish and multi-cultural settings. We witnessed Nancy create opportunities for meaningful sharing not only between age groups but also between people of different cultures who were learning about Jews and Jewish life.  People shared in powerful and impactful ways.

“It was pure joy to partner with Nancy as she developed a unique and powerful art-based intergenerational experience in a virtual environment for our organization.  Her project with us became the template for much of our online intergenerational work going forward in the pandemic.  We are indebted to her for her willingness to join us and we are so grateful for her partnership.”

Community artist Dove Weissman Shtein joined for the final intergenerational class on "Home."

Peri Smilow
Former Director of Intergenerational Program Engagement
DOROT