A new art series in Fort McMurray aims to connect artists and seniors, to help reduce social isolation during the pandemic.
The art series is called the Art of Conversation and being produced through Arts Council Wood Buffalo and St. Aidan’s Society.
Cory Huber, a local musician, was paired with 84-year-old Rudy Loy.
Loy, a woodworker, crafts ornate wooden boxes that he donates to charities. Huber creates progressive hip-hop music.
During the summer the two were matched up for the project. It started with a phone call, but then they met in person. Huber got to see Loy’s house and the extent of his woodworking.
“He made the deck, the railings. Everything has Rudy written all over it,” said Huber.
As Huber toured around Loy’s house, he noticed the furniture in the living.
Loy had planned to build custom living room furniture for his wife, and he finished the coffee table. But before he got to the next piece, his wife died.
Huber took this moment, alongside Loy’s woodworking, and created a country song for him.
Listen to Rudy’s Song on YouTube:
“It’s a nerve-wracking experience,” said Huber. He wrote a country song for Loy, because that’s Loy’s preferred style of music, but it was new territory for Huber.
He spent time listening to country music and studying it to make sure he could write a song that would speak to Loy.
Huber is also a woodworker, and decided to save the song on a CD and present it to Loy in a box he made himself.
They listened to the song together.
“It was a big relief to know that the music really spoke to him and he sort of approves of the project overall,” said Huber. “It’s a good feeling.”
Loy said the song was uplifting.
Luay Eljamal, programs manager for Arts Council Wood Buffalo, said initially the project was supposed to be a collaboration with artists and seniors that ended with the creation of a mural for public display, but it wasn’t feasible during the pandemic.
So the council had to get creative.
“The goal was always to engage seniors in the arts,” said Eljamay.
He said that many seniors felt isolated before the pandemic, but now face an environment that is even more isolating.
The initial call-out for artists went out in May. The arts council paired 31 artists with 35 seniors.
Eljamay said at first, he wasn’t sure how successful the project would be.
“You’re putting a lot of trust in two complete strangers,” said Eljamay. “It was encouraging to see everybody stepped up.”
There was a range in mediums and styles, from songs, paintings and poems, all the way to balloon art. All are displayed in a virtual gallery on the council’s website.
Fort McMurray balloon artist Nelly Wati was paired with Alan Reeve.
At first, Wati said it was a little “awkward.”
But that awkwardness lifted as the conversation wore on and Wati got to know Reeve a little better.
She discovered he used to be a police officer, and now he’s a photographer.
Wati made him a balloon sculpture of a police officer and a camera. A few days later, Reeve came to her house with a print of one of his photos of the Snye.
“I was so surprised,” said Wati. Now it’s displayed in a glass cabinet in her home.
Even now, some of the seniors and artists are still friendly emailing, painting together remotely or calling to check-in.
Arts Council Wood Buffalo purchased all the pieces, and gifted them to the seniors.
Wati said she hopes the art project happens again.
And it will, according to programs manager Eljamay. He said Suncor has already sponsored the project for next year.