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Kim Willis: Painting the Picture of Growth in Aging Successfully

September 27, 2021

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“We’re a community in this studio. I see a lot of friendships form; we have a lot of fun, we laugh, and we interact with each other,” says Kim Willis, Moorings Park Communities’ Art Instructor. “We’re just all very close and supportive of each other. It’s a wonderful community!”

Willis has made a great impact among members of the Moorings Park Communities. She’s seen the difference art has made in various lives, from emotional and mental, to physical and spiritual ways. And it all started at an early age for her.

A Cultured Art Education

In grade school, Willis participated in nearly all art forms, including music, theater, and visual art. When it became a challenge to steadily apply herself to these various forms, she devoted herself to visual art in high school, where she became the president of the art club.

Her college journey was a cultured one. Starting off at the University of Florida, Willis soon transferred to Kalamazoo College in Michigan. She studied abroad, attending the University of Bonn in Germany for a semester before spontaneously moving to Berlin for a year and a half. 

There, she worked in partnership with an artist who would hand-dye silk but didn’t know how to sew. “She would help me with lessons, and I would make clothing out of the hand-dyed silks she created. Of course, I closely watched what she was doing so I could learn her technique." 

When Willis eventually returned to the United States, she landed a job at a tailor shop while renting out a studio in her spare time doing what she had spent time learning in her recent years: hand-dying silk. In fact, that was the first work she got into a gallery. 

The artist’s college journey continued at Florida SouthWestern State College (previously known as Edison State College) where she learned printmaking. Finally, she earned her degree at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“I had a well-rounded education from many different educators,” Willis laughs. 

As far as her professional experience as an artist, Willis has shown her work in numerous galleries since the '90s and has participated in both national and international juried competitions.

Though, after 11 years as an Art Instructor developing classes at Von Liebig Art Center (known as the Naples Art Association), Willis was made aware of an opening at Moorings Park Communities as an Art Instructor. As you guessed, she got the job.

Art Instruction at Moorings Park Communities

Willis, who has now been the Art Instructor at the organization for six years, says art holds a large therapeutic value and is a great way for folks of all ages and skill levels to express themselves.

“I hear many times from the residents that they’re able to come into the studio and for two hours, completely forget about all their problems,” Willis shares. “That’s what I want to give people: an opportunity to immerse themselves in something that doesn’t involve the day-to-day troubles.” 

She reports that she’s seen people grow in their art skills, and therefore, their confidence. She encourages all members to take part in these art classes as it’s never too late to learn. She’s happy that people are able to visit her “office” and try something that they weren’t able to fit into their lives before this and grow with it. 

Willis holds classes for independent living and assisted living members, along with memory care folks. This is a specialized class called OMA (Opening Minds through Art) where the program relies on volunteers to help inspire creativity and friendship with members with dementia and other memory impairments.

Her classes explore the various art mediums, from oil painting and printmaking or drawing and acrylic painting. Different topics and materials are utilized as well.

The classes differ on each campus, simply because the members of each campus differ. “I ask residents what they’re interested in, and I try to gear the classes on what that particular group wants. Some classes are more open studio – where they may be working on five different medias, while others are more structured with a theme to follow.” 

Art as an Anchor to Aging Successfully

Why does art play an important part in any Life Plan Community? 

Art creates opportunities for cognitive development and as we age; no matter our age, we’re always looking to exercise our brain. Creating art is helpful in the brain-hand connection and mobility. Emotionally, it’s an outlet and can help people remember in many ways. Art gives people a sense of self and improves self-esteem.

At the very least, these art classes hosted by Willis encourage socialization.

The instructor’s biggest piece of advice? Just try it.

 “The residents that aren’t involved in the program – I often hear how they can never do art and aren’t creative,” says Willis. “There have been studies done that found as the brain ages, it changes. You can go from being very analytical to being a very creative person during that aging process. So, in my opinion, there is no excuse for not giving it a try and seeing where it takes you.”

Willis and her full-time assistant are there to help you every step of the way and are willing to teach you from the ground up. She believes success comes with growth, so she is always available to push your skills forward.

“I try to work with each artist and learn who they are, where they are, and where they want to go, and develop a plan for them that way. I instruct them on the path that they want to follow.”

To learn more about the Moorings Park Communities art department and other life-enriching amenities, our luxury residences and world-renowned health care services, please visit MooringsPark.org.

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