A group of Saskatchewan artists are thinking inside the box when it comes to helping seniors preserve some of their most cherished memories as they age.

Since 2013, the Regina-based Common Weal Community Arts organization’s “Hello In There” initiative has deployed artists to local seniors homes to pair them with residents for workshops that help them create a “memory box” that depicts a meaningful memory or moment from their life.

“At this time of our lives, we really rely on memories,” Agnes Weisgerber, 78, a resident at Regina’s Extendicare Parkside home and one of the seniors involved in the project, told CBC. “Everything else is gone, but you have your memories.”

Photo courtesy Common Weal Community Arts Facebook page.

According to the CBC story, the initiative is simple but significant. An artist is paired with a senior like Agnes, who tells the artist about their life. As they talk, the pair singles out a treasured memory or moment from the senior’s life — for Agnes, it was a childhood memory of the joy and festivities surrounding Ukrainian Christmas with her family — and then use the artist’s supplies and crafts to create a visual rendition of the memory inside a box, dubbed a “memory box.” The senior can then hang on to the box as a keepsake and pass it down to their family as a

Photo courtesy Common Weal Community Arts Facebook page.

Another resident at the Parkside home, 98-year-old Clara Fiage, created a memory box that depicted the home she grew up in. “We’d always help mother in the garden. You know, plant cabbage plants. It’s always a happy home.”

A statement on the Common Weal website touts the “tangible physical and mental health benefits” the art workshops offer, both for “maintaining physical strength and coordination” and in helping “build understanding, offer opportunities for self-expression amidst loss, and for achievement and re-engagement.” 

Photo courtesy Common Weal Community Arts Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Berny Hi, one of the Common Weal artists, spoke about the experience of working on the boxes with seniors. “When you sit down with someone and ask them questions about their life, I think that means a lot to people. And I think it’s something that sometimes we’re missing in society — connecting with … the inner soul, rather than the outer mask that we often see.” He added that, “A lot of this generation, their stories are disappearing. It’s a generation that has had quite a different life than kids nowadays and even myself. It’s somewhat imperative to get those narratives right now.”

Shaunna Dunn, the artistic director at Common Weal, agrees. “It helps bring awareness to just what the lives and the history of these participants are, and how much they’ve contributed to our community in the past,” she said in the story. “That’s really important for us to look back at.”