After the Table

Award helps Latino elders “act up” and develop their artistic skills

Pictured above: Latino elders paint during a La BROCHA workshop. La BROCHA was created with the help of a 2016 Acting Up award.

by Raquel Venado | April 10, 2018

Painting made me feel awake and happy! La BROCHA is like therapy.
“Painting made me feel useful.”
“Painting made me feel like Leonardo DaVinci.”

These sentiments, expressed by students in a special workshop, prove it’s never too  late to become an artist, and members of La BROCHA (The Paintbrush) are doing just that.

Initially created for Latinos age 60 and older with Alzheimer’s disease and their families, La BROCHA quickly evolved to become painting workshops for all Latino older adults, with a special invitation to those who have Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative conditions.

La BROCHA was launched in 2016 with an Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust. Two workshops were held that first year; and in 2017, thanks to a second Acting Up award, the workshops blossomed into a well-attended art exhibition.

Pictured above (left to right) are La BROCHA founding members: Judith Rocha, Susan Aguiñaga and Yadira Montoya.

The exhibition, “La Salud, Arte y Tradición,” was held on Dec. 2, 2017 at the National Museum of Mexican Art. It featured 98 pieces by 67 artists, and two interactive art tables, where participants were able to create clay sculptures and easel magnets.

Yadira Montoya, one of La BROCHA´s founding members and the Senior Engagement Coordinator for the Rush Alzheimer Disease Center, led an educational game of La Lotería.  In this case, the traditional images of the Mexican board game were substituted with images representing healthy aging, such as broccoli (healthy eating), swimming (exercising the body), socializing with friends, and books (exercising the mind).

In a get-to-know the artist kind of way, the participants were asked six questions:

  • Painting made me feel…
  • What´s the secret for a long life?
  • What´s the best advice you have ever received?
  • What is the best part of being your age?
  • What is the worst part of being your age?
  • What is your first memory in Chicago?

In general, participants said they feel happy and free; most of their first memories involved seeing snow for the first time in real life and seeing Chicago’s tall buildings.

The workshops welcome people who are 60 and older, but they make exceptions for younger people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

“The art exhibit was a unique platform to highlight the artistic talents of Latino elders, but also to provide much-needed education on brain health and Alzheimer’s disease,” says Yadira.

La BROCHA is a passion project for its founding members: Judith Rocha, Yadira Montoya and Susan Aguiñaga.  For Judith, it is also a personal cause. The idea of La BROCHA started when Judith decided to take her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 12 years ago, to an art workshop which had her mother´s favorite actress, María Félix, La Doña, as a theme.

“I wanted to see how she would do with an activity like that and she loved it,” says Judith. “For me, La BROCHA has been an opportunity to just expand on that and to have a space for older adults.”

La BROCHA changes themes every time and keeps attracting new people. The day of the exhibit, attendees signed up to stay connected to the project. Yadira says that during their first 2018 workshop, a handful of the seniors who attended the art exhibit took the next step and registered to participate themselves.

The workshops are also expanding beyond Little Village and Pilsen. In 2018, they are being held in Gage Park, Southeast Chicago and Humboldt Park. Judith says they now have groups of people following them wherever they host the workshops.

“It is nice to see that they are acting on their sense of community and traveling to different settings with La BROCHA.”

Pictured above: Paintings created by seniors were on display at the “La Salud, Arte y Tradición” exhibit, developed with support from a 2017 Acting Up award. The paintings, displayed on Dec. 2, 2017 at the National Museum of Mexican Art, were based on the traditional Mexican board game La Lotería, with images such as “El Corazón”, “El Nopal” and “La Calavera.”

Pictured above: The “La Salud, Arte y Tradición” exhibit drew people to its interactive tables of clay sculptures and easel magnets.

View Yadira Montoya’s 2017 video submission on what she would do with an Acting Up award: La Salud, Arte y Tradición / Health, Art & Tradition.