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Creative Pursuit for the golden years of Tampa residents

Maureen Murphy brings out the artist in older students
Maureen Murphy of the Life Enrichment Center chats with Campbell Buchanan, 67, during a painting class on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 in Tampa.
Maureen Murphy of the Life Enrichment Center chats with Campbell Buchanan, 67, during a painting class on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Aug. 21, 2021

Times Correspondent

The Life Enrichment Center, a private, nonprofit art center for seniors in north Tampa, offers a variety of classes, not just art, for people 55 and older. They include creative writing, bridge and meditative doodling and range in price from about $6 to $10 per class.

“The method behind the madness is there’s research done on all of the things that we offer, and it’s to keep people happy and healthy, creative, social, all of the things that are needed to stay healthy,’’ said Maureen Murphy, executive director of the enrichment center.

Murphy, 52, who has Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in Ceramics and Art Education, also teaches portrait painting, sculpting, creative thinking and other classes at the center. Before taking the job at the center seven years ago, she was a grants administrator and accessibility coordinator with the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. She has taught art to developmentally disabled adults and owned an art and antique restoration business in West Palm Beach. She is currently vice-chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Council on Aging.

The pandemic closed the center last year and moved classes online, but now it is transitioning back to live classes, said Murphy. She talked with the Tampa Bay Times about the center and its students.

When did the Life Enrichment Center begin?

Well, 41 years ago, in 1980, we were started by four different churches in the area, and it was to create a meeting space; bingo, a meal, they also had get-togethers and games. So, it was more of a community senior center than anything else. ...

What happened was they lost the funding from the county to keep that center going the way that it was, so (former director) Ronna (Metcalf) made it an art-based platform.

What are some of the classes offered?

We always try to do a revolving beginning class of acrylics, watercolors and drawing so that anybody that wants to start can get a basic introduction. We have creative writing. We have meditative doodling. We have drawing and painting. We have two watercolor classes, an advanced and intermediate. And then we also have two game classes because they challenge your brain. One is bridge and then the other one is mah-jongg. We have chair yoga and tai chi that we offer three times a week. ... We also have a bunch of different clubs, including the stamp club, the Hukyu Bonzai Society. We have an AA meeting that meets here. We have the Tampa Bay Time Bank. We also have the Florida Society of Decorative Artists. ...

We also do a large variety of classes – usually we do 66 to 150 different classes – out in the community every year, on top of what’s in person.

Maureen Murphy of the Life Enrichment Center chats with Vincent Geraci, 16  during a painting class on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 in Tampa.
Maureen Murphy of the Life Enrichment Center chats with Vincent Geraci, 16 during a painting class on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

What is meditative doodling?

Basically, with meditation, sometimes it’s hard for people to sit still without anything to do, so doodling actually gives you something physically to do while you’re in that meditative state. The other thing that it helps, it helps blood pressure. It helps loosen you up to actually start painting or drawing. The other great thing, when you’re doodling, you actually retain more information if you’re listening to something than you do otherwise if you weren’t doodling.

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All these activities keep people happy and healthy?

Yes, they absolutely reduce health risks. They reduce doctor visits. They’re proven to reduce falls. They’re proven to reduce isolation depression, which can actually exacerbate one issue into four.

It’s a big deal. … Learning something new after age 55 every year reduces the chance of Alzheimer’s by 78 percent. Those are the kinds of statistics that we look at and revolve our program around.

You had to close your doors because of the pandemic, you say. How did you operate?

Everything was online, on Zoom, until about a month and a half ago, when we just started in person again. …

Right now we’re doing combinations of things, whatever makes sense to the class, because we’ve got a couple of teachers from Maine and New Port Richey, and we have students now from California. We also have one in the Netherlands. We’ve got a lot in New Jersey and New York. So, basically, if 90 percent of the class is from out of state, then we keep that (on) Zoom. ...

And then we’ve had classes that we’ve had people that are far away, but the teacher’s here and there’s a lot of students here, so we have in-person and Zoom. We have a camera and a microphone set up and the Zoom people are on the TV. … And then we have just in-person classes.

Did you get these out-of-state students because you went on Zoom, or were you already online?

We were not on Zoom before. We had never heard of Zoom before the COVID. But the people, it was either that they had been to the center at one point and now could attend because we were on Zoom. … And we also acquired new students that had never been (to the center) as well that were from up north or out west.

What do the students have in common?

Everybody’s got their own story about why they come here, or why they want to do it. But basically, it’s about wanting to explore the creative side of themselves. Whether it’s after work, and they are still working, or if it’s because they’re retired and they want something to do. ...

It’s one of those things that at the end of the day, you have something to show for it. You have something beautiful to put on your wall. And there’s a lot of great motivating factors to get better at something. … You can always be better, so it’s always a challenge.

How are you funded?

We have a couple of amazing family foundations, including Albers, the Couch Family Foundation. T.J. Couch has been an amazing supporter of the LEC, and so has his father for the last 41 years.

We get grants from Hillsborough County, the board of county commissioners, the (state) division of cultural affairs. We’ve gotten grants from Las Damas (de Arte), the DeBartolo Foundation. … We also have amazing individuals that support us individually and through coming to our classes.

For more information, go to www.lectampa.org.

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