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Graffiti comes of age as elderly Portuguese try urban art

By HELENA ALVES and BARRY HATTON
Associated Press

COVILHA, Portugal (AP) - Some are hard of hearing or don't see well, others complain about stiff joints, one is 101 years old. All have become graffiti artists under a project to energize Portugal's elderly.

Learning how to paint graffiti - a form of urban art often associated with unruly adolescents - is bringing cheer and a can-do attitude to pensioners in this rural Portuguese city. Until late last century, Covilha was a thriving textile center but it now has an aged population as the industry declined and the young left to find work.

The goal of the graffiti workshop is to get the elderly away from their knitting or sitting in cafes, says Lara Seixo Rodrigues, a local woman who launched the project. She wants to break their routines, keep them active and motivated, and bring them into contact with younger generations.

And they rise to the challenge.

Seixo Rodrigues says "they completely change in a couple of hours." At the start, they complain they can't do certain things, such as use a box cutter, but with some coaxing they do.

By the time they have learned enough to start spraying on a wall, they are raring to go. "They drop their crutches and put aside their walking sticks and jump to it," she says. "They are all capable of having a much more active life."

Seixo Rodrigues got the idea when she saw how local pensioners reacted to graffiti during an art festival in Covilha, located in a range of hills about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon, the Portuguese capital.

The local elderly were fascinated by the graffiti, she says, and were full of questions about it.

The roughly 10-hour workshop is divided into four stages: lessons on the history of graffiti from the 1970s in the United States; helping participants create their own "tag," or signature; teaching them how to use stencils; and finally spraying paint onto a wall. The teaching team includes at least one young graffiti artist.

Similar courses are taught in Germany, and Seixo Rodrigues has received inquiries from France and an invitation to Brazil.

When the time comes to start spraying, 101-year-old Emilia de Jesus Teles and 90-year-old Ana Torrao are among those pulling on a white gown and green rubber gloves.

"We're always learning," Torrao said. "It's good to keep learning until you die."

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Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal.

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