Elizabeth Sanders had given up painting. She gathered her canvases and brushes, paints and art books and put them in a donation box next to the trash. The last thing she painted was a portrait of her daughter, Malia Rose. But Malia was dead now. She died two years ago of cancer, and Sanders was in a funk. “I go like this,” she says, her hand riding an invisible roller coaster. “But then I heard about the Tony Ortega painting class at Sam Gary Library, and I thought, well, it’ll get me out of the house. It’ll get me around other people. It’s a two-minute walk. So I said, suck it up, Buttercup, and get your ass over there.”
She’s glad she went. Eight weeks later, and Sanders sits in her apartment surrounded by eclectic art and her fluff-faced dog, Ollie, says her life has changed dramatically. “My story isn’t so much about what I learned painting-wise or what I took away with a piece of work. It’s about an evolution. The first thing we worked on was the [color] scale, and I had so much fun doing that one exercise; it inspired me to get out my little box. I took out my spatula, and then I got out something else, then something else, and soon I didn’t have enough space,” she says, patting her queen-sized Sleep Number bed. “So this is going, and I’ll have more room for this,” she says pointing to her easel cramped in the corner.
Her transformation is in large part thanks to Amy DelPo who worked as a librarian for the Denver Public Library for ten years before becoming the library’s first Administrator of Older Adult Services in April of 2019. Amy and her partner, Lily Kosmicki, a librarian at the Sam Gary Branch quickly learned that older adults in Denver tend to be healthier, more affluent, and better educated than previous generations and regardless of health and income, they want a more meaningful and active existence. “It’s about providing enriching, high-quality programs, events, and classes.” DelPo says. The Older Adult Programs, which are funded by The NextFifty Initiative and available to anyone fifty plus, offer everything from tech and medicare support to creative aging classes. “Creative aging is a national philosophy that says one of the greatest gifts of age is time and space to do things that we weren’t able to do in the crazy rat race of life. Out of the 18 people currently enrolled in Ortega’s class, 12 or 14 of them have never painted before, and I think that’s beautiful,” DelPo continues. “We want to flip the cultural narrative,” DelPo she says of their efforts. “Our current cultural narrative marginalizes older people and says it’s a time of decline, it’s depressing, and it’s about what you can’t do anymore. We want to flip that to it’s a vibrant time of exploration and life-long learning and inclusion because of things like wisdom and experience. We also want to create community and connections for this population.”
Flipping the narrative is something Sanders understands. When Malia was given six to nine months to live, she says, “We made the commitment to live every day with gratitude, joy, laughter, hugs, creativity, and happy music.” It’s in that same spirit that Sanders has decided to make room for more creativity in her life. “I’m going to do a whole book of color assignments, and my goal is to teach this one day,” she said, holding up one of the books she rescued from the donation box. It’s Julia Cameron’s latest edition in a series on spiritual creativity, and it’s aptly titled It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again.
To learn more about Denver Public Library’s Older Adult Programs visit denverlibrary.org/events/ upcoming or email Amy DelPo directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. DelPo’s already planning more programs for 2020, including classes in art, poetry, writing, tech training, health, and mindfulness—all designed just for older adults.