When the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts found out that Andres Gonzales, a certified activity director with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Angelo State University, was interested in doing volunteer art classes at local retirement communities, they thought it would be meaningful to provide sponsorships to implement art programs.


Through grants that the museum receives, they were able to sponsor an art program at Baptist Retirement Community, and the community kicked off classes for residents living at the community’s newest addition, The Crest. The San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts promotes education that leads to the creation of art through these sponsorships. Gonzales comes up with the lesson plan, gathers the materials and leads all the classes. The Crest serves those in need of assisted living or memory care, and opened last year.

“Creating art is a therapeutic escape for me; it’s my happy place,” said Gonzales. “I find joy in providing that kind of gratification to seniors who are willing to try new things in their retirement. Many of these participants were so engrossed in raising kids and building and supporting their families, they did not have time to dabble in new hobbies. For many, this is the first time in their life that they can try unexplored interests and try their hand at creating art.”

There is a stigma that exists for some – the idea that coloring, drawing and painting are simply child’s play. Gonzales is working to change that perception and encourages people to open up and create the projects he picks out for each class. He is mindful of choosing mature designs to overcome the perceived childishness, and also works to incorporate the five senses. For one of his last classes, he teamed up with Michelle Villarreal, life enrichment coordinator for The Crest, to create a lesson plan that was fun for residents in more ways than one. Gonzales thought the residents would delight in making paintings of cupcakes. To add a festive element, Villarreal hosted a baking class earlier that day in which residents baked and decorated cupcakes that were made to inspire those in the painting class. Participants used the cupcakes as visuals, then ate them with a cup of coffee as a refreshment.

“These classes are really made possible with the help of the activity directors,” said Gonzales. “I truly appreciate their willingness to help me facilitate them. They stay late to clean up and they encourage residents who feel they are not equipped to create art or who are hesitant to try new things. During one of the first classes, a resident left halfway through because she felt she was not artistic. After talking with her privately, Michelle convinced her to come back to the class where she finished her piece, and she beamed with pride. She overcame her doubts, pushed herself and created art that inspired her. Another resident doesn’t like to participate in most activities, but she does participate in one thing – my art class. She is paying tribute to her daughter, who was an artist. The classes build self-confidence for those who attend. I have found that it is inspiring to create art, no matter how it turns out.”

The classes are held at 6:00 p.m. on two Thursdays each month. The next class will be held on January 26, and will focus on creating crosses. Previously, residents made winter drift scenes of forests, and they’ll do Valentine’s Day-themed projects in February. Gonzales notices that residents often have conversations during the class that are ignited by memories of the subject at hand. It delights him to hear the residents reminiscing, as he understands that some of them are living with forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Since the cognitive levels of his students vary, he brings other art projects, such as coloring sheets, to keep everyone entertained. Some of the projects are created with the intent of being gifted to a loved one or someone special, and during December they created Christmas ornaments for team members.

“It is rewarding to see residents who question their artistic ability have fun with the classes and test out their creative sides,” said Villarreal. “The classes are a lot of fun for both Andres and me, as well as for the residents. I like seeing how different each piece turns out, and it warms my heart to see them enjoy learning something new. Andres is a wonderful instructor and we are very lucky to have him. We look forward to seeing what he comes up with next!”