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Alone, Together: New Exhibition Spotlights Seniors During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The earliest guidance regarding COVID-19 in the United States focused primarily on staying home and taking life-saving precautions to protect populations most vulnerable to the disease. While all of us have had our lives disrupted, many seniors have felt too unsafe to leave their homes at all for what will soon be a full year.

The Rockwell Museum’s longtime partner The Memory Maker Project, based in Binghamton, is an art, culture and advocacy program for aging adults, people living with memory loss, and their loved ones in the Southern Tier. While Memory Maker has served people living with memory loss since 2015, they quickly broadened their mission in March of 2020 to include all aging adults, recognizing the connection between social interaction and brain health. Memory Maker pivoted from in-person to online programming to serve the needs of elders in the Southern Tier and now hosts weekly Art Talks on Zoom. Rockwell exhibitions or collection artworks are featured once per month. Participants in these talks have expressed how life-changing it has been to be able to look forward to a social event each week.

A new photo display facing out of the windows at the KIDS ROCKWELL Art Lab on Market Street addresses the isolation that aging adults face due to COVID-19. The project was created by Hadar Arens, a Binghamton University senior and Harpur Fellow, in partnership with The Memory Maker Project. One primary objective of Hadar and Memory Maker was to create a display that is completely accessible to seniors and other individuals who don’t feel safe entering public spaces. The entire Alone, Together photo exhibition can be viewed from the sidewalk.

“Sunset” by Cynthia

Participants from Broome, Otsego, Chenango and Chemung Counties were asked to document a week of their lives during the pandemic using either provided disposable cameras or their personal smartphones. They were given a list of suggested prompts, but ultimately each participant had full creative freedom of what to photograph and which photos would be displayed. By exhibiting the photos together, Hadar and Memory Maker seek to celebrate the beautiful community that emerged during a year of virtual programs and give volume to the voices that have been most silenced during the pandemic.

“Celeste on a Walk” by Leone

In Hadar’s artist statement for the project, she writes:

“During the COVID-19 pandemic we have all had to adjust to a ‘new normal.’ My photography project is intended to highlight the ways in which Memory Maker members have been impacted by life “on pause.” The participants were empowered to share their firsthand experiences through their eyes and stories. I am interested in how looking at the participants’ own photographs of their daily life during the pandemic will allow others to better understand the lived experiences of aging adults, those with memory loss, and a population that is physically and socially isolated from their loved ones.

Photography allows us to pause, observe, and focus on thoughts and feelings. This art medium is an invaluable creative outlet to help people find meaning in their lives, especially during crises. These photographs authentically capture a wide range of experiences and allow people to reflect on the ups and downs of this complex time. 

While we cannot safely be in-person just yet, the photographs displayed together symbolize the courage and resilience of members of our community. These photographs serve to validate the experiences of those negatively impacted by the pandemic and a reminder that we are not alone, but together.”

Hadar will be graduating with a degree in PsychThe Memory Maker Projectology with minors in Cinema and Applied Behavioral Analysis and plans to go on to graduate work in Art Therapy. In addition to the Art Lab windows,  Alone, Together is also on display in the windows of the Lost Dog Café in Binghamton, NBT Bank in Bainbridge and the Greater Oneonta Historical Society. It will be on view at 36 E Market Street through mid-May. For more information about Art Talks with the Memory Maker project, visit memorymakerproject.org.

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ELAINE K. NG

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