The opportunity to combine his passions of art and psychology in a project that will benefit a population about which he cares deeply—GLBT elders—is almost a dream come true for Clinical Counseling student Gregg (Cal) Calvird. But it is a vision that he will soon transform into reality.
As one of Chicago’s 33 recently named Albert Schweitzer Fellows, Calvird will spend the coming year using the concept of “value-neutral art” to decrease social isolation and increase self-esteem in an older-adult population served by Center on Halsted’s SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) program. The project’s purpose will be to tap into each individual’s creativity and focus on the artistic process rather than the end product.
“Value-neutral art allows people to stay with their own intuition and their own energy, rather that reacting to what others might think about what they’re creating,” he says. “It’s all about the kind of art you did when you were younger without worrying about making a mess. It isn’t important that it’s ‘good art.’ What’s important is that it’s your art.”
Calvird’s fellowship will enable him to use the activity—one that he has spent seven years facilitating with a diverse population at Evanston’s Open Studio Project—to engage and motivate the center’s GLBT clients who are 45 and older. A critical aspect of the project is that, in addition to taking part in the activities, these clients will help develop it.
“While I have my ideas about how a program like this should look, I am very open to having the participants help define it,” he says, adding that if their ideas differ dramatically from his, he is prepared to find a way to balance the two ways of thinking.
“There’s a difference between the healthy resistance of people who want to define their own goals and those of people who don’t want to engage in new activities that can be scary—like artmaking or sharing their own writing,” he explains. “It may become a question of where do I let go of my ideas, or where do I draw a boundary and say that I think this is an essential part of the program and we need to at least try it my way.”
However the program development process goes, Calvird is committed to its culmination in an activity that engages SAGE clients on a new level and encourages their interaction. The plan he envisions is a 12-week series of workshops in which participants will create art, write about it, and share their written thoughts with others in the group. A key aspect of the group process—and what makes it value-neutral art—is that clients will neither criticize nor compliment one another’s work.
“I’m always amazed at the inner wisdom and creative intuition that comes out during this process,” Calvird says.
Serena Worthington, who directs the SAGE program, is anticipating the benefits that the project will bring to her clients.
“It’s a powerful model and unlike any other programs that we offer the center,” she says. “While we do have clients who participate in an open-art studio here, Cal’s project is designed as a very nonjudgmental model that encourages people to work as individuals but establishes intimacy through the shared-group process. It can help people overcome anxieties about their artwork and to make it possible for them to delve deeper into the process.”
Although she and Calvird have been talking about starting a program of this type since Center on Halsted opened two years ago, it came down to a matter of resources.
“Cal went out and found his own funding so that we could do it,” she says.
The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship proved a perfect fit for the project. Awarded annually to graduate students in 11 selected cities, the fellowships enable recipients to launch health-related service projects that benefit underserved communities. Recipients are also expected to remain “Fellows for Life” who continue to take an active role in community service and to live Dr. Schweitzer’s reverence-for-life philosophy.
A former glassblower and clinical massage therapist who decided on a career in psychology after turning 40, Calvird is the second TCS student to be chosen as a Schweitzer Fellow. In 2008, School Psychology student Laura Granros received a fellowship to develop Storyworks, an after-school reading program for disadvantaged children. Click here to read her interview.
Calvird’s fellowship requires him to devote a minimum of 200 hours of service and to create a program that can be sustained after funding ends.
“We are so excited to have this program at Center on Halsted,” Worthington said. “It will provide a wonderful option for clients who are interested in a high-quality program based on art and writing.”