Ageless Art program at PiX FiZ gallery offers artistic expression to dementia patients and more

Exhibit Opening Reception: Alan Upah

PiX FiZ Gallery — Thursday, March 5 at 6 p.m.

Closing Reception: Alan Upah

PiX FiZ Gallery — Friday, March 27 at 6 p.m.

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Ageless Art — courtesy of Xene Abraham

As one of the newest art galleries in the greater New Bohemia area of Cedar Rapids, PiX FiZ (located at 1136 9th St SE) is working to distinguish itself as an event-based destination for those interested in innovative art experiences. Xene Abraham, who opened the gallery on April 20, 2019, hopes to provide an alternative environment to digitally driven cultures that she feels don’t share her unhurried, supportive values. She is focused on enhancing local art awareness and providing creative art opportunities to all ages.

Abraham describes PiX FiZ as located on the “wrong side of the tracks” — if you think you’ve missed it, just keep going. The gallery celebrates “outsider art,” the kind of painting and sculptures undertaken by largely self-taught and self-motivated creators. Accordingly, the community that gathers at PiX FiZ tends to share values like authenticity and self-expression as forms of social commentary. The local community has embraced the new space as well: Growing crowds engage in discussions during Cedar Rapids’ monthly First Thursday Art Walks that often stretch long into the night.

Abraham’s background is in painting, having attended UNI on an art scholarship. Her artistic pursuit was sidelined after an unfortunate theft from a storage unit left her without paints and brushes after graduation. During her long 25 year break from painting, Abraham exercised her artistic expression at Cedar Valley Christian School, where she taught K-6 art, and another two years of youth instruction for the city of Cedar Rapids. In 2018, the opportunity arose to work with the elderly in both independent living facilities as well as those in severe dementia units. The program Abraham developed, called “Ageless Art,” grew quickly. This allowed Abraham to expand the kinds of communities that Ageless Art can reach.

In January of 2020, with the help of David Getzin — who serves as treasurer and secretary to Abraham’s president of Agless Art, as well as teaching there — the program moved beyond being ad hoc and was officially launched as a non-profit organization, so that Abraham’s vision of enhancing the lives of others through art can expand into more communities. The current model of the organization emphasizes access to art instruction that presumes only a willingness to follow instructions. As community support increases, Abraham envisions Ageless Art offering more advanced courses as well.

At any level, Abraham says, the focus of Ageless Art is on inspiring better living, alongside others.

“Science proves that art helps reconnect synapses in the brain — dancing and music work too, and for any age,” she said. “Creation of art, in a group setting, is intoxicating. People thoroughly enjoy it — and they get to be social at the same time. Once you experience it, you want to do more. It brings you into presence — it is a beautiful, meditative therapy. People feel better when they create.”

Ageless Art — courtesy of Xene Abraham

Abraham’s current goal, she says, is to “put more art into more facilities.”

“I want to hire artists who have talents to share, who can enhance and enrich these people’s lives — and get paid for it,” Abraham said.

The organization is currently working with a handful of teachers and speakers and visits over 20 facilities each month. They also have started a podcast that explores questions concerning creative thinking in everyday life.

Beyond the work with the elderly, another important imperative driving Abraham’s Ageless Art programs is a drive to correct the sense of social isolation and lack of connection that has become more prominent.

“We’re losing connections with real people in our lives, and making art together helps,” Abraham said.

Incorporating its appreciation for the importance of community, Ageless Art is working toward offering collaborative classes. They are currently working with area youth agencies to offer “Create with Me” events and opportunities. Open to the public, these will feature collaborative art for pairs of any age to co-produce a single painting. Currently, the collaborative projects are only offered in the PiX FIZ gallery, but they hope to grow into on-site options for different groups, facilities and organizations, including team-building projects.

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There’s something freeing about creating, witnessing or discussing art. Abraham describes PiX FiZ, and the expansion of Ageless Art programs, as “an ‘art gym,’ where people can exercise their creative abilities … and enhance their brains.”

But beyond individual moments, PiX FiZ provides an important new space for the community. In addition to collaboration, where we experience liberation as we learn to communicate and create alongside others, true freedom requires a community of non-prescriptive action. It requires a space in which a public can gather and through which it can recognize itself.

PiX FiZ provides this space, and Ageless Art creates the programs. It curates classes and artists, and its events also often feature live music from local acts, creating a multi-dimensional space. At PiX FiZ, art is fully witnessed: learned, observed, performed, discussed.

Work by Alan Upah. — courtesy of PiX FiZ Gallery

PiX FiZ remains true to its purpose as a gallery (in addition to a classroom and public space) by featuring the work of local artists. Artists are generally featured for a month. Its opening receptions coincide with the First Thursday Art Walks, inviting everyone to celebrate and introduce the artist, and it holds a closing ceremony on the final Friday of each month. The gallery is open by appointment throughout the month, and those who come to PiX FiZ classes and events are also graced with the art.

The gallery’s next featured artist, Alan Upah, was raised on an Eastern Iowa farm and now lives in Cedar Rapids. He comes to art after having spent 20 years serving with the Belle Plaine fire department. According to Abraham, Upah uses his art to reflect on the stresses of everyday life, creating sculptures that share his views on current events and his life experiences. The opening of Upah’s show will be held on March 5 at 6 p.m., with a closing reception scheduled for March 27.

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