CASA GRANDE -- With mounds of clay, packets of paint, coloring pencils and other art supplies, artist Lisa Swanson is helping area residents cope with the stresses of COVID-19 by encouraging them to unlock their inner creativity.

The art bug is contagious “in a good way” she said, and engaging in creative projects keeps people busy, enables communication and alleviates stress.

“One resident told me how she is so glad to have something to keep her busy. She was sleeping all the time. Recently she discovered she loves to paint,” Swanson said.

Before COVID-19, Swanson was often seen throughout the community in her ArtMobile van, visiting senior facilities, schools and programs. She also hosted art classes in her downtown art studio.

The epidemic forced her to become more creative and find new ways to keep people engaged in the arts and to introduce more people the therapeutic advantages of unleashing one’s creativity, she said.

In response to COVID-19, she began distributing free art kits to area residents with projects ranging from painting and coloring to clay-based arts.

Several of her regular programs felt the impact of the epidemic.

For the past five years, she’s visited the residents of Kachina Apartments, offering weekly in-person art classes through a program started in partnership with the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens.

But because of COVID-19, the classes were canceled. Now, due to the epidemic, when she visits Kachina Apartments, Swanson stands in the shade of a tree handing out art kits for residents to take home.

“I came up with the idea to distribute art kits to the residents to stay connected and sustain my relationships with my students. Also, to continue fostering their creative engagement, helping them to relax and their mental health during this challenging time,” she said. “Now they are developing their own ongoing creative practice and experiencing how the arts are helping them cope with their ongoing health challenges, the pandemic and build neighborly relationships.”

The program will expand soon to the Dorothy Powell Senior Center in partnership with the city of Casa Grande. Seniors will pick up weekly art kits when they pick up a meal at the center.

“We plan to continue to expand the Art Kit program to more facilities in August and are designing specific weekly art kits to include ceramics, painting, coloring, jewelry, art history and more,” Swanson said.

Her weekly in-studio CreativeCare clay sessions, once offered in her downtown studio, are now curbside with to-go kits available for pickup on Mondays.

About 75 people, including adults and children, stop by the studio on Mondays to pick up a kit, she said. The group shares their work and socializes through a Facebook group.

“We present a different weekly project each week with a clay art kit that contains all the supplies, written educational history and technique instructions, sometimes video instructions and an optional weekly Creative Connect zoom session,” she said.

Other programs, including work with clients of The Opportunity Tree, have also adapted to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Five of their group homes pick up art kits curbside each week for 18 of their members that have intellectual and developmental disabilities,” she said.

In June, ArtMobile held a three-week Mud & Music Virtual Camp With Clay in partnership with the Casa Grande Arts and Humanities Commission.

Through the community-based intergenerational art camp, clay kits were picked up curbside at the studio, then taken home by participants who created and dropped off their projects each week.

More than 41 area children ages 5 to 17 took part in the program along with about 20 adults. Among the projects they made were shakers, ocarina and udu drums.

“The intergenerational clay and music virtual art camp was designed to explore and teach the traditions, ceramic techniques and sounds of ceramic musical instruments,” Swanson said.

The program gave participants a chance for older adults to make clay instruments with their children or grandchildren.

“The parents of the children became engaged in creating the music instruments and asked to receive extra clay for themselves to create an instrument alongside their children,” Swanson said. “The camp became a positive arts response to COVID-19 that offered creative activity that relieved boredom, anxiety and helped families cope. Creating together in their homes reconnected families.”

She said some of the lessons learned in the camp may continue after COVID restrictions end.

“Participants enjoyed working on the projects in their home environment, allowed them the freedom to take their time creating the projects. They could choose when and how long they wanted to spend in comparison to a weekly class,” she said.

On July 25, ArtMobile will host a Zoom-based Coffee-Conversation-Clay + Live Jazz event from 11 a.m. to noon.

Pre-COVID, the monthly events were held live in the studio. They’re now virtual. Participants may pick up an art kit, work on a project, then attend the Zoom gathering to listen to live jazz music performed by Swanson’s husband, Steve.

The event is open to everyone.

When the weather cools down, Swanson plans to offer a new program, CreativeCARE PopUp classes, in which outdoor art classes for up to 10 participants will be offered at seniors facilities, kids’ neighborhoods and other places, in keeping with social distancing recommendations.

Art helps all people express their feelings, she said.

“ArtMobile has been focused on creatively adapting its intergenerational community programming as an arts response to COVID-19 since March. We are on a mission to reduce loneliness and combat social isolation through programs delivered in safe-distance formats and online,” Swanson said.

Engaging in the arts, “even for short periods of time, reduces stress, enhances coping and emotional regulation, and increases well-being,” she said.

ArtMobile programs are offered at no cost. The ArtMobile Creative Center is at 115 E. Fourth St. For more information, visit the website, www.artmobilevan.org.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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