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Arts Enrichment: Appealing To The Creative Brain Initially Spared By Dementia

February 8, 2010
Research continues into the positive effects that the arts can have on people with memory loss, such as the two-year study being done by the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in conjunction with the Maricopa Partnership for Arts and Culture in Phoenix, Arizona. Their Arts Engagement Program is an innovative collaboration designed to study the benefits of the performing and the visual arts on individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and their care partners. The pioneer in this outreach is the “Meet Me at MoMA” educational program that was specifically designed for people with AD. Its hallmark interactive tours at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City are for individuals with dementia and their family members. The program gives those living with dementia an expressive outlet and forum for dialogue through guided tours and discussions in the Museum’s galleries. Specially trained museum educators work with small groups in the galleries to engage in discussion and to highlight themes and artists. Inspired by the work done at MoMA, programs at museums big and small are being initiated to reach out patients and their caregivers. Just launched is SPARK! at the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, sponsored by an inaugural grant from the Helen Bader Foundation, Milwaukee that included five Wisconsin area museums. People with AD and other forms of dementia and their caregivers can participate in a monthly program that uses paintings and sculptures to stimulate meaningful conversation followed by an opportunity to be creative. According to education curators Jayna Hintz and Erin Narloch, SPARK! is designed for two distinct groups: individuals with memory loss who live at home and those living in long-term care, and for both, the emphasis is on providing a meaningful social experience. The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art? in Kansas City, Missouri offers another innovative two-part program. In collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Association, individuals with memory loss, along with a family member or friend, are invited to take the Immediate Memories Tour. Accompanied by trained docents, participants discuss artwork in the Museum’s collection and are invited back the following week for a Memories in the Making workshop to create watercolor paintings inspired by a work of art on display. (Most of these museum programs are free but require advance registration, so call or email ahead.) If your local museum does not yet offer a program of this type, it may in the near future. To encourage other museums, the Association of Midwest Museums (AMM) and Education Committee (EdCom) are offering a June 2010 workshop based on the MoMA model for museum professionals at all types and sizes of museums. Held at the The Art Institute of Chicago, it will feature representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association, MoMA, and educators from the five Wisconsin museums.