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Art Project Gives Seniors a Way to Provide Words of Wisdom to Today’s Youth

Denise Santana was a participant in 100 Words of Wisdom. Her chosen phrase was “Mother Earth” (photo credit: Katori Walker)

“What one word would you give today’s youth to take with them throughout their lives?” This is the question that Yonkers artists Evan Bishop and Katori Walker, founders of the community-based art project 100 Words of Wisdom, recently asked local seniors. The goal of the project was to engage 100 mature adults and include them in the conversation about improvements to their local communities. The result was 140+ men and women from Westchester, New York City and beyond, of all walks of life – from politicians and family members to artists and educators – each providing one unique word (or two-word phrase). Three languages are represented (English, Spanish and Sanskrit), as are people who are native to six continents.

These seniors were each interviewed about their word choice while Bishop painted the word somewhere on their body. Walker then photographed them. These photographs will be on view in an exhibition at Blue Door Art Center (BDAC) from October 26 through November 4.

Many of the chosen words are commonplace, but the stories attached the each one, and the experiences that inspired the participant to choose it, are unique. Said Bishop: “This project was inspired by my desire to empower elders and show them that their stories matter.” Together, these words help to create an intergenerational dialogue that stretches beyond Merriam- Webster’s definition of any single word. The exhibition, in turn, creates the story of a generation with wisdom and experiences to share, and also creates a means by which to transfer these ideals to a new generation.

Bishop summed up what he learned through the project: “The first word we were given [by Walker’s grandmother, Thelma Jenkins] was “focus.” The last word [given by ArtsWestchester’s CEO Janet Langsam] was “try.” So I learned that if I try, and stay focused, all the things in between will manifest.”

A “Celebrate With the Stars” event gathers the participants for an afternoon of performances and mingling at Yonkers Riverfront Library on October 14. A full-day opening reception at BDAC takes place on October 26. For more on this project, which is supported by an Arts Alive grant, visit: 100wowexhibit.com. For more info on the exhibition at BDAC, visit: bluedoorartcenter.org.


A version of this article first appeared in the October issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews