By Jon Lapointe
Special to The Outlook
Heritage Square Senior Apartments resident Philip Sanchez never took an art class and doesn’t like computers. “I’m technology challenged,” Sanchez confessed.
But that hasn’t stopped the 70-year-old from discovering new talents in weekly online art classes for Heritage Square residents taught by Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts and made possible through the generosity of local foundations.
Since quarantine started, the Armory’s teaching artists have remained devoted to the Armory’s mission of transforming lives through the power of art. Using video conferencing platforms, including Zoom and Google Meet, the Armory continues to provide free art classes throughout the community.
Before the pandemic, the Armory offered free, in-person classes at Heritage Square nearly every week, but the classes conflicted with Sanchez’s work schedule so he never participated. When nonessential businesses temporarily closed in March, Sanchez suddenly had time on his hands.
“He was sitting in my office, bored, and I said, ‘why don’t you try this art class?’” recalled Heritage’s senior property manager Donna Hess.
Since the Armory kept Heritage well stocked with regular deliveries, art supplies weren’t an issue. Due to quarantine, neither was time. Sanchez agreed to try it out, but one obstacle remained. The classes were held using Google Meet, and the technologically challenged Sanchez couldn’t figure out how to make it work. So, he joined the class via telephone instead.
Using Meet’s call-in feature, Sanchez could hear everyone, they could hear him, but nobody could see each other, which was “kind of a drag,” he said. For the next several weeks, Sanchez was the mysterious, charming voice behind a blank square on the screen among his classmates’ faces. Armory faculty devised work-arounds to accommodate, such as delivering printed lessons beforehand and giving real-time feedback of his works-in-progress from photos sent by text.
After weeks of tech support by Armory faculty and Heritage staff, Sanchez had a breakthrough. For the first time, he was finally able to connect by video and “join” his classmates. Everyone started cheering when he appeared on the screen, Sanchez recalls. “When it finally worked, I was like ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Awesome!’’
When asked why he showed up week after week by telephone, Sanchez said it was the joy of art and community that kept him inspired. “Everyone’s getting creative. That motivates me. I wouldn’t do this by myself.”
Sanchez’s instructor Heather Hilliard and her Armory colleagues have had to reinvent how they teach art in the age of COVID while ensuring equitable access for everyone. Though still a work-in-progress, the Armory is committed to dismantling the digital divide. “We’ve had challenges and victories. Everyone is learning through this process,” Hilliard observed. “The pleasure is hearing how happy the class makes them and that they’re really learning how to create. Sharing your knowledge with someone because it’s what you love to do … that’s the reward.”
To learn more about the Armory’s online programs, follow on Instagram.com/armoryarts or visit armoryarts.org.