There is something special about museum access programs for individuals with dementia and their care partners, family, and friends. These programs are part Memory Café part Support Group, rooted in joy, connection, learning and hope (not unlike the improv group I wrote about last time.) This past week I was reminded of my first experience with the museum access programs. When I first heard about Meet Me at MoMA I was encouraged by what the program was able to uncover with the participants, and the model has remained a core inspiration for my work and how I look at art engagement. It is through these programs that we are reminded of the beauty of creativity and community. They show us we can still learn, grow, imagine, and laugh with dementia. They remind us we are more than our ability to recall information.
All over the world different types of museums and community centers have developed programs, not only individuals with dementia, but also for those with low vision, families, older adults, and people with all types of abilities and needs. These programs can often go unnoticed by many of the organizations’ patrons, yet without such programming, are our museums truly living out their mission and vision statements? The visual art world is surpassing the performing arts, though they are equal in their importance and impact. I encourage you to take some time this week to see what community access programs are offered around you and see what it would take to form a program if one does not exist. If you work in a care communities or with individuals who may not be able to get out into the community to participate, get creative and find ways to bring elements of the experience each individual. (I have developed a program for such situations that you can use if you reach out to me.)
Growing research is supporting arts and health, and program like Meet Me at MoMA, in informal and formal ways. They have an impact on who we are not just emotionally but also neurologically. Still, if for no other reason, we should engage in arts programs for joy and beauty alone.
If you have ever attended a dementia arts access programs you may have stories of the beauty of these programs. A group gathers, sometimes already friends, sometimes strangers. With a museum educator, a volunteer or two, and the other participants, the group enters into the gallery. They pass walls filled with art and maybe other patrons of the museum until they reach their destination, a work of art that will soon spark conversation and story. As the group sets up and settles in, the museum educator gives some background the piece, shares a personal connection, and asks the group about their thoughts. From silence to laughter and joy the group engages with the work and with each other. Breakthroughs don’t happen every time and with everyone, but through this process, individuals who no longer speak, open up and finding new ways to communicate their story with the group. The time passes with each artwork visit before the group gathers for a moment of socialization before heading on their separate ways. As the day, week, or even month passes the artwork and participants names may be lost, but the emotion of the day will linger.