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Bohemia art space offers frontline workers, caregivers stress relief with creative classes

Prior to the pandemic, Bohemia — an art space in North Boulder — hosted its fair share of workshops for all ages. The funky industrial locale, at 4919 North Broadway, Unit 7, opened in 2017 and has been the site of boutique pop-ups, album release soirees and various celebratory gatherings.

Cindy Parker and Abby Sivy, standing, help Audrey Wilson, left, Livia Hall, top right, and Ande Bernthal, all staff members with Academy Senior Living. with a rt projects on July 16. Sivy and Parker, who own the NoBo art center Bohemia Boulder, have organized team builds and art sessions for workers of medical facilities and caregivers at nursing homes to de-stress during the pandemic. (Cliff Grassmick/ Staff Photographer

From corporate team-building sessions to private art parties, the studio — brimming with oversized tissue-paper flowers, messages of positive affirmations and intriguing birdcages — was a place that offered a refuge from the ordinary.

Intricate beaded mala necklaces, handcrafted feather-clad dream catchers and shrines — diorama-like mixed-media pieces adorned with pressed flowers, rusted charms, fairy lights or perhaps an old skeleton key — are some of the creations crafted in-house.

Now, owners Abby Sivy and Cindy Parker are bringing the same palpable energy found within their whimsical studio to those who need it most. The duo has teamed up to allow caregivers at nursing homes and medical workers at healthcare facilities time out of their chaotic days to tap into their own creativity and de-stress with two-hour outdoor art sessions that engage and inspire.

"Being creative is always important, even in everyday life," said Sivy. "Given the situation we are faced with today — the stress and anxiety of COVID — we feel that expressing yourself through art is even more imperative. One thing we convey to all participants is that this is about the journey, not the destination. We are all born creative, we may have just forgotten along the way."

From Left, Abby Sivy and Cindy Parker in Bohemia, the art space they co-own in North Boulder in 2018. (Bill Sivy/ Courtesy photo)

Sivy and Parker provide all the art materials and bring them to an outside area of the medical facility or nursing home, so it's convenient for workers to step out and join their colleagues in creating.

Parker, in addition to co-owning Bohemia, is the community life director at The Academy, a position she has held for six years. Her role at the boutique retirement community allows her to bring the arts — everything from watercolor painting to pottery — right to residents.

While Parker hosted small groups of nursing home residents in socially distant painting sessions during the pandemic, she and Sivy saw no reason why caregivers shouldn't be offered the same therapeutic outlet.

"I have offered intuitive painting to caregivers at The Academy and they are so grateful to have the opportunity to talk about the importance of what they are doing and to express themselves through painting," Parker said. "Several of them insisted they 'can't paint' or 'are not creative,' but with the right encouragement they loosened up and had fun."

At the root of Bohemia's essence is a desire to get folks to fearlessly put paint to canvas or make a collage with wild abandon — losing inhibitions and forgetting the notion that art has to be something serious and time consuming.

"We have such an eclectic mix of projects that we offer, many that people really looked forward to," Sivy said. "It was so hard to shut our doors to everyone, especially when we knew that people needed to create more than ever in a time like this. We held some Zoom classes, but it is much more fun in person —feeling the sense of community."

From Left, Cindy Parker and Abby Sivy pose in Bohemia, the North Boulder art space they own, in 2017 (Bill Sivy/ Courtesy photo)

Before its temporary shuttering due to COVID, walking into Bohemia meant walking out with detailed prayer flags, vision dolls or modern-day Japanese Kintsugi bowls — vessels made from reassembled broken pottery pieces fused with gold to display the powerful notion of finding significant beauty in embracing flaws.

Previous workshops have included the Altered Book Club — where participants transformed the pages of literary works into textured canvases, teeming with paint splatters and appointed with everything from fabric to shells. Some even opted to alter the publications into sculptural works.

Earlier this month — after being closed since March — Bohemia welcomed back a small masked group for a studio class where participants kept their distance and the space's large garage door remained open. While the majority of in-house classes have been called off, the center continues to update its site with safe options for those looking to gather and make art.

While the no-experience-required Covid Stress Relief Program has been popular among caregivers and medical workers, Sivy feels a large range of professionals could find value in quieting the mind and taking time to create.

"Absolutely anyone can benefit from this," Sivy said. "It would be an amazing gift from a boss to workers who have been on this roller coaster since spring. We will make art with any type of group."

Abby Sivy, left, talks with Academy staff member Suzy McWilliams during Bohemia's Covid Stress Relief session on July 16. (Cliff Grassmick/ Staff Photographer)

For team-building within a company or business, Bohemia typically charges $50 to $100 per person depending on the project. For the COVID program, sessions are limited to 10 to 12 participants and the cost is $30 per person.

"I would equate this kind of work to what we have done with our Healing Through Expressive Arts groups," Parker said. "We partnered with TRU Grief Services to run a series of classes for people recovering from various life losses. It is amazing to see how people in vulnerable states respond to stretching their psyches out by using various mediums to literally create forms of rebuilding, restructuring after loss."

The anxiety and stress that has surfaced as a result of the coronavirus global health scare could be lessened with some kid-like exploration.

"People have fear of the unknown during this pandemic and there is often a tendency to power through days and weeks, especially for those working on the front lines," Parker said.  "It seems counterintuitive to stop, sit still, let something inside of you come out through a brush or collage items onto paper. It is never about what it looks like — the finished product. It's always about the process. We've seen tears, aha moments … all kinds of reactions during these sessions. If nothing else, it's great for these hardworking caregivers to let go and have a couple hours of fun."

Artwork made by a caregiver at The Academy, a retirement and assisted living facility in Boulder, at one of Bohemia's Covid Stress Relief art sessions on July 16. (Abby Sivy/ Courtesy photo)

Bohemia had plans to take its creative sessions on the road with retreats to Taos, New Mexico, and Paris, France, but COVID-19 put a stop on future travel.

While Bohemia students will not be creating from an adobe house or historic chateau anytime soon, Parker and Sivy are finding ways to connect virtually with locals and people across the globe. They have plans to collaborate with local portrait artist Craig Palmer to deliver a range of interactive subscription-based programming on the web.

"The Bohemia Collective will be an online resource for people of all ages and abilities to tap into their creative selves with fun, out-of-the-box contemplative workshops, classes and much more." Parker said. "We are hoping to launch in the next six months."

For now, the creatives continue to offer much-welcomed escapes from often stressful work environments and the drone of the news cycle.

"There is something about moving color around, simply to be in the process, forget about the finished product and feel your art instead of seeing it," Sivy said. "It helps one feel the stress melting away. When you are focusing on something beautiful that you are creating, it helps to forget about the daily challenges you are contending with. Many times we have seen people process and release as they are creating. It's a beautiful thing."


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