Day Job

I know a handful of artists that do not have a day job, and sustain themselves financially solely through their art practice. Everyone else has a day job, myself included. At the end of last year, I quit a high-paying government job with excellent benefits to do something "more fulfilling". My theory is, if I'm spending most of my time there, I should feel happy with it, gain something from it, and utilize my special skills education. My pay now is just over half of what it was, but my level of fulfillment is 100 times higher.


I now work in the activities department of an assisted living facility for seniors and those with different types of dementia. I love that I get to develop my own creative programming for the residents, including art workshops, creative writing workshops, and what I have been calling "Science Saturdays."


Some residents are already skilled artists in drawing, painting, or sewing, but many were reluctant to come to my art workshops when I first started. Slowly the attendance has grown since they discover that to create great art, you do not have to know how to draw. You do not have to be able to hold a paintbrush steadily, or be able to see color like you used to when you were 70 years younger, or have use of both hands, be free of disease, know everything about famous artists, or even be able to use a scissors. It's important to me to meet the residents where they are in ability and build their confidence. We now do a lot of collage work, watercolor painting (not always with a paintbrush), and Dadaist poetry- their favorites. They love learning about Dadaism, graffiti culture and history, and I have even got them to venture out to contemporary art museums and galleries with me.


It's inspiring to me to see that spirit of creativity, the lowering of inhibitions, and the release of fear and anxiety when the residents truly let themselves enjoy making. The average age of the people I work with is 93 years old, and every day I learn multitudes from them. Each individual has truly become a friend of mine. Here's one of their favorite activities, Dadaist poetry!


© Leah Swenson 2020