Arts patrons received two different emails about a Creative Alliance exhibition featuring works from members and staff of the John Booth Senior Center.
The first version: “This showcase of [the seniors’] talent recalls the many happy times they enjoyed in creative fellowship before the center closed its doors after 45 years of continuous operation in October 2012.”
The second, revised version: “The exhibit showcases the talent and fellowship of the center’s free visual art classes offered to over 100 mature adults ranging from ages 55 to 93 years old.”
The first, past-tense release was apparently written before or during the uncertainty tied to the public’s rejection of a Recreation and Parks Department proposal to add 90-plus parking spaces to Patterson Park—a plan that also included, per the Health Department, the closure of the John Booth center and the relocation of its services to the park’s Casino building.
Though its members are in a state of limbo, unsure of where they will end up, the John Booth Center remains open and active. Last Friday night at the Creative Alliance, seniors sipped wine and nibbled on cheese and crackers while they displayed their artwork to the public.
Charlotte Jankowiak, who has several mosaics and painted screens on display at the Creative Alliance exhibit, said that she has been taking advantage of the John Booth Center’s free art classes for about three years.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Jankowiak said. “It’s nice to see the finished product, to realize that you can make something.”
She is most proud of a boldy-colored mosaic featuring a fish with a marble eye.
“It takes awhile to do it, but it’s so worthwhile,” she said.
Jankowiak volunteered that while she and her husband Richard make their art at the John Booth Center now, “I don’t know where we’ll be making it in the future. It’s up in the air now.”
Richard Jankowiak taught himself to make stained glass art when the couple wanted a special transom window for their new home.
“When I went out to price [a stained glass transom], it was really high, so I said that I would make it,” he said.
It took him “about five years” to finish that first project, but now he’s teaching other seniors the craft at John Booth.
Joann Scanlon, who has lived in Highlandtown near St. Elizabeth’s Parish for 40 years, specializes in jewelry. She had her own business, but now makes jewelry on a request basis and for her own satisfaction.
“All our seniors do some kind of really nice work or another,” she said. “We might be old, but we’re not dead.”
Scanlon said that she felt that the seniors’ situation—an outdated facility with no alternative location identified—had been lost in the shuffle during the outcry against paving in Patterson Park. She said that the seniors themselves weren’t requesting 90 parking spaces.
“We just want to be happy too,” she said quietly.
“Of course, they’re talking about closing the Booth Center,” said Frances Baltrunas, 87, while displaying her watercolor paintings. “I’m going to be very disappointed if they do—my family’s scattered, and it’s really a home base for me.
Sandra Abbott, daughter of Richard and Charlotte Jankowiak and a member of the Highlandtown Arts District steering committee, had plenty to say about the situation.
“I think that was a mistake to not let them be part of the discussion,” said Abbott, referring to Councilman Jim Kraft’s and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s creation of the Patterson Park Working Group, which has representatives from all the neighborhoods surrounding the park, plus park-related organizations such as the Audubon Society and the Friends of Patterson Park, but not a representative from the John Booth Senior Center.
Arnold Eppel, director of the Health Department’s Office on Aging is part of the group, as is Elouise Mayne, Division Chief of the Health Department.
Abbott acknowledged that the Patterson Park Planning Committee, the sister group of the Working Group, is open to anyone concerned with Patterson Park, including seniors.
“But the meetings are at 7 p.m.,” she said. “The seniors don’t want to move their cars, and they’re afraid of being knocked over and mugged.”
Abbott said that the seniors are an indispensable part of the community.
“One of the cool things about this neighborhood is it does have some of the quote un-quote oldtimers,” she said. “We’re losing their stories and their perspective. It’s our loss not to see them as viable contributors…They need to be brought to the table and they need to be invited in a way they can participate.”
The artwork from the John Booth seniors remains on display at the Creative Alliance through Dec. 23.
by Erik Zygmont