Meet Debra – she’s a new and beloved instructor at Vivalon who is inspiring joy and a sense of community through art!
Last month Vivalon adopted the Age-Friendly Intergenerational Center (AFIC) in Corte Madera, bringing new friends, classes, and instructors to our Healthy Aging Center in San Rafael. Debra Maddox is one such instructor who shares her enthusiasm for art with her many students.
Debra has followed her two passions—art and education—throughout her career, starting as a public-school art teacher and then as a consultant for the art program of an educational publisher.
She always had a love for creating her own works of art and spent her spare time painting. “A friend of mine said you have all these paintings you should submit to the Sausalito Art Festival,” says Debra. “I said ‘I would never get in there. It’s a juried show. It’s too hard to get in.’ My friend insisted though, and to my surprise, I made it in!” She’s been juried into the art show for 20 consecutive years, launching her art career, with collectors returning year-over-year to procure more of her pieces.
Eventually, a friend who taught watercolor classes at the AFIC asked Debra if she would be interested in taking over his classes. Debra agreed and began going into the studio to perform demos for the students. Then the pandemic hit.
Knowing many of their older adult participants were isolated during the shelter-in-place mandates, Carla Condon, co-founder of the AFIC, asked if Debra could continue her classes virtually. Debra got to work. She contacted a friend at UC Berkeley who put her in touch with their art professors to help her understand how they managed virtual art classes.
Using what she learned from other instructors, Debra set up a camera over her table where she did the demo. “Suddenly, it was as if the students were standing directly over my shoulder watching me do this demo,” Debra explains. “I send out a sketch the night before, and then they can paint along with me while they watch. As it turns out, this is much more effective than the bricks and mortar environment.”
From home, students follow along with Debra step-by-step, asking questions and receiving guidance in real time. “One thing I noticed,” says Debra, “was the rapid progression of their artistic talents via Zoom, which totally surprised me!”
Many older adults join Debra’s classes every week, but her classes have grown to include the adult children and even grandchildren of her older students. People from all over the country drop in to paint with Debra, creating a true intergenerational experience. Over time, Debra’s classes have become a community.
“We all learn from each other,” says Debra. “People are so supportive of each other. When someone has gone through a tragedy that they share with the group, other students offer encouragement.”
Debra’s classes have become a place for people to spend time with loved ones, engaging in something they love, even when they live on the other side of the country. People even join while they’re on vacation, signing on to Zoom while they are in Lisbon or even at the airport. “I just love it!” says Debra. “It’s rewarding to me to spark that artistic fire inside of people.”
“I’m thrilled our friends from the Age-Friendly Intergenerational Center have joined us at the Healthy Aging Center,” says Stephanie McNally, Vivalon’s Director of Healthy Aging. “Debra is such a resource and inspiration for her students and I’m glad she’s continuing her classes with us.”
Both Debra and Carla share Stephanie’s enthusiasm about joining Vivalon. “We’re both excited about it. Everyone has been so welcoming and there’s a lot of support if I’m having a computer or Zoom issue. People are just right there to help. I couldn’t be happier about joining up with Vivalon and being connected with such a wonderful organization.”
“Painting with Debra – Watercolors” is available Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:30am-12:30pm.
“Painting with Debra – Acrylics” is available Thursdays, 10:30am-12:30pm.
Call Vivalon’s Guest Services, 415-456-9062, to sign up today!
Funding for these programs, at least in part, is made available by the Older Americans Act, administered locally by the Marin Department of Health and Human Services, Aging and Adult Services.