Zoom-savvy art students see COVID-19 as no barrier to keeping on top of Parkinson’s

Emilee Geist

The sound of pencils and charcoal scratching furiously at paper fills the room, but these art students are creating in different postcodes. Eighteen months ago, Newcastle Parkinson’s Support Group engaged art teacher Susan Porteous with bold plans to mount an exhibition in March 2021. Classes at the Hudson Street Hum […]

The sound of pencils and charcoal scratching furiously at paper fills the room, but these art students are creating in different postcodes.

Eighteen months ago, Newcastle Parkinson’s Support Group engaged art teacher Susan Porteous with bold plans to mount an exhibition in March 2021.

Classes at the Hudson Street Hum back then were happening face-to-face, but with the COVID-19 pandemic classes moved to the Zoom platform.

Owner of the art space in Hamilton, Aleeta Cliff, said classes were slowly returning face-to-face — now in a COVID-safe manner.

“We are normally a space where people come to do their workshops, but some of our artists and facilitators wanted to continue their classes [during coronavirus restrictions] and do them via Zoom,” Ms Cliff said.

Susan Porteous was one of the artists and facilitators who took her class online.

The art teacher described the Zoom teleconferencing platform as “a really fantastic way to interact with people”.

“It’s really important to be able to demonstrate what you’re doing,” Ms Porteous said.

“That way your students can see the process that you’d like them to participate in.

“You can also communicate with everybody because you can see everybody on Zoom.”

A mini-exhibition of the support group’s work-in-progress was on display this week at The Hum featuring still life, portraits, landscapes, seascapes, and lots of colour.

One of the members has gotten so good at art she commenced a Certificate IV in fine art at Hunter TAFE.

Lynette Saunders, 53, from Kotara, said doing the course gave her the confidence to further develop her skills.

“I was enjoying it so much I thought I’d like to take it further and learn more about different techniques,” Ms Saunders said.

“And with COVID-19 I thought now’s a perfect time. I can’t travel, I can’t do anything else, so I might as well study.”

Ms Saunders is a member of another support group for sufferers of early onset dementia, calling themselves The Martinis.

“We call ourselves The Martinis because we’re shaken, not stirred,” she said.

“From that we’ve got [another] group of women called Women with the Wobbles.

“We play tennis every couple of weeks, or meet for lunch, or just discuss different treatments and different activities and things that work for us.”

Parkinson’s is a progressive movement disease affecting 11 million people worldwide and 100,000 people in Australia.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremors, slowed movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, and changes to speech and writing.

There is no cure for the disease, but treatment can significantly improve the symptoms.

Sandra Elms from the Newcastle Parkinson’s Support Group said it was important for sufferers to “try and get out of their comfort zone”.

“It’s important that you do activities like art and singing and Pilates and dancing,” Ms Elms said.

Group member Lawrie Gray said he found great enjoyment from art and had seen symptoms such as tremors decrease significantly in other members who had tried their hand.

“I hadn’t drawn since high school,” Mr Gray said, “so, it was a buzz for me to get into it. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been away from it for too long.”

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