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AARP Public Policy Institute
Art for the Ages
A good idea takes on a life of its own—that’s the story of Bihl Haus Arts Center and the GO! Arts Program.
The story starts in an all-too familiar setting: an historic structure—this one in San Antonio, Texas—that had fallen into disrepair. By the early 2000s, the home known as Bihl Haus, named after its first resident and dating back to 1920, was dilapidated and crumbling, literally a shell of its former self, for it resembled a bombed-out building, graffiti and all. Meanwhile, another threat loomed for the building that boasted both architectural and historical significance: it stood on land eyed by developers.
Plans took shape for what otherwise would be a welcome addition to the Deco District section of the city: an affordable retirement community. The local neighborhood association, while open to options for the sizable chunk of land surrounding Bihl Haus, resisted the notion of tearing down the historic structure.
Enter art and architecture historian Kellen Kee McIntyre, who proposed that the former home be converted to a community arts space. Both sides agreed.
The story, however, does not end with the building’s renovation and new use. Yes, at first the crisp new space hosted gallery events, adding a dynamic institution to both the neighborhood as well as the new affordable retirement community. But then came the next stage of the transformation, which began when a resident of the new Primrose at Monticello Park Senior Apartments volunteered as a docent. Then others volunteered, and still others. The space was becoming a true part of the community.
The building’s story was still not finished; next, it realized its full potential—its destiny, you might say. One day, a volunteer asked McIntyre, “Where can I take art classes around here?” That gave McIntyre another idea. She found an art teacher, and what became known as the GO! (Golden Opportunities) Arts Program was born.
Thus, through her guidance, a dilapidated home had morphed into a gallery, which then became an interactive, multifaceted arts center serving the community—and specifically older individuals, providing them with the opportunity to enhance their well-being by feeding their creative minds and connect socially. For art and architecture historian Kellen, the initiative has become a new passion.
“It’s like magic, what happens in those classes,” she says. “They come to their first class with closed body language and two months later they’re interacting with students around the classroom. At other times they’re so focused as they struggle to put thought on paper. Everyone has a story. I’m humbled by what they tell and do.”
The blossoming of facility and program have continued. Today, Bihl Haus Arts offers residents of Primrose classes in painting, crafts, creative writing, and yoga. Classes are taught by professional artists, several of whom live in the neighborhood, which historically has been an artist’s hub. Since Kellen kicked off GO! Arts in 2007, it has expanded to 15 senior centers across the city.
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