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Looking Through The Lens At Life After 55: Baby Boomers Not Done Learning

Erica Miller takes a photo in Chicano Park, Nov. 8, 2018.

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Erica Miller takes a photo in Chicano Park, Nov. 8, 2018.

About a dozen older adults crowd around a picnic table painted like the Mexican flag.

“How many of you here, it’s your first time at Chicano Park?” asks Kevin Linde, the adult programs manager at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. About half raise their hands.

“We’re literally a mile-and-a-half from Balboa Park, so we’re very close to where we usually go, but we’re in a very different world,” he said. “I’m really excited we’re all here to explore today.”

The adults are students in a museum program called SEPIA, which stands for Seniors Exploring Photography, Identity and Appreciation. They are at the Barrio Logan park to study color and form. Activists painted rich murals there, on the underbelly of the Coronado bridge, starting in the 1970s.

Linde said the program, which serves about 750 students annually through four-week photography classes, is an important piece of the regional puzzle for serving seniors. Health care providers, emergency officials, the housing sector — they are all preparing to meet the needs of Baby Boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, as they enter a new phase life. Studies show engagement in the arts can also positively impact mental and physical well being, Linde said.

“We have this increasing population of older adults and seniors as part of the Baby Boomer population and they're redefining what it means to age,” he said. “So they’re looking for creative pursuits, they’re looking for continuing education, they’re looking to get involved in things.”

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Photo by Megan Burks

SEPIA students gather under the Coronado bridge in Chicano Park, Nov. 8, 2018.

After discussing examples of street photography in the museum’s collection, the students fan out among the bridge pylons. Cherrie Anderson, 71, is drawn in by a painting of an eagle atop a field of vibrant yellow.

“I don’t really know anything about the equipment. I have a little point and shoot,” she said, framing up the eagle in the foreground with the bridge expanse stretching behind it. “But I do have a design background and so I know about composition and form and all the artistic parts. So I just try to get something pleasing in my frame and hope for the best.”

Anderson moved to San Diego from Washington, D.C., five years ago after retiring from her interior design business. She said she turned to SEPIA for a much-needed creative outlet.

“I mean, I can do this without all the business pressure,” she said. “There’s a lot of business and psychology that goes into design, which is very interesting when you’re young, but it gets more wearing as you get older. So this is fun to just be able to do the pure creative part and not have to worry about keeping the business going, keeping the clients happy. All I have to do is keep myself happy.”

That’s especially important because Anderson still has a job to do in retirement. She’s a caregiver for her adult daughter, who has a disability.

“When you’re a caregiver, you create beauty in a certain way. But I really want something tangible, too,” Anderson said.

Photo by Megan Burks

Cherrie Anderson takes a photo in Balboa Park, Nov. 8, 2018.

During each class, the students print their work using portable printers and then share their photos. At the park, the printers ink shots of murals and Mexican altars adorned with marigolds.

“I like this one because I’m really fascinated by the juxtaposition of the color and the concrete,” Anderson tells the class.

“And that really speaks to the neighborhood, too, because the neighborhood was always a really vibrant place, and then when the freeway went in in the 1960s, you can imagine if someone in Balboa Park just dug up the Prado,” Linde answered.

Anderson said she relishes this part of the class — fresh perspectives to keep her fresh in her later years.

“It creates a totally different perspective on your life. It makes you realize how much there is out there in the wide world. It helps you forget politics for a while,” she said with a laugh. “When you’re just immersed in creativity and beauty, you don’t have to think about all the rest of life that maybe isn’t so beautiful. I would recommend it to anybody who maybe wants a little stimulation and change in their life.”

SEPIA runs monthly. A similar class serves people with dementia and their caregivers.

Reported by Kris Arciaga

A class offered by the Museum of Photographic Arts helps adults find fresh perspectives in their later years.

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