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Art Center of the Bluegrass hosts training on art and dementia

By KATE SNYDER

ACB

The Art Center of the Bluegrass (ACB) hosted a regional training Jan. 13-14 on how arts programs can positively impact adults with dementia and their care-partners. The two-day training was facilitated by Hollie Ecker, a representative of the Arts and Minds organization in New York City, and attended by ACB staff and volunteers, along with professionals from regional senior care facilities including McDowell Place and Morning Pointe of Danville, Louisville and Franklin, Indiana. 

The purpose of the training was to explore the role that art programs can play in improving quality of life not just for people with dementia, but for their care-partners. Ecker is a teaching artist and museum educator who works with numerous major museums in New York City — the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Jewish Museum and the Whitney Museum.

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Ecker says her work is “deeply rooted with my belief in supporting the right conditions, where meaningful connections are possible for our community of participants: connections between themselves and other participants, themselves and the artworks in the museum, and finally, between their own personal experiences and art-making materials.”

ACB is developing an art program inspired by the Arts and Minds museum programs in New York. The program will bring together adults with dementia and their care-partners for facilitated art-viewing and art-making activities. During the training, staff and volunteers practiced leading gallery talks that focused on deep observation of a single work of art, along with group discussion of that work. They learned to weave together elements of museum education and art history with open-ended questions that prompt participants to make personal connections to the art from their own life experiences. 

The training participants also learned tips and techniques for art-making with adults with dementia, including adaptive tools that make it easier for those adults to interact with the art materials. Art programs provide cognitive support to adults with dementia, along with social stimulation. 

Program participants often present improved moods and decreased apathy after being involved in an art program. The benefits of the program are equally strong for the care-partners, who report positive outcomes including decreased feelings of isolation and stress. 

Deb Cullen, a community member who will be volunteering with the ACB program, shared her experiences of caring for her mother at the end of her life. She says that being a caregiver is life-changing. “When caregivers are totally consumed by their in-home efforts, there can be a lot of hard memories. This experience [of coming to an art program] creates a positive memory.” 

Cindi Rhodes, Lantern Program director at Morning Pointe of Louisville, agrees, pointing to the equalizing role of art for program participants. She says, “Here you’re on the same level. You’re not just patient and caregiver when you’re making art together.”

Gina Scott, activity coordinator for McDowell Place of Danville echoed that feeling. “Art evokes a lot of emotions and feelings. It fosters connections. It’s wonderful to be able to bring that experience into our care for people with dementia.” 

 “We feel so fortunate to have been on the receiving end of Hollie’s expertise,” says Niki Kinkade, ACB’s director. “What we learned through this training will elevate all of our programming.”

Training participants practice and art project using India ink during the Arts and Minds training session at Art Center of the Bluegrass. Pictured, from right: Tara Palmer, Sherry Brown, Lisa Keller, Gina Scott, Jennifer (will get if needed!), Deb Cullen, Margo Goodwin, Brandon Long, Dionna Baker. (Photo submitted)

Beth Janney, corporate director of Memory Care for Independent Healthcare Properties and Morning Pointe, agrees. She says her program directors are excited to apply what they learned in the training to the programs at their facilities. “This experience enhanced our skills for how to engage with residents in a variety of activities — not just art activities.” 

The Arts and Minds training was funded by a grant from the Hudson Ellis Fund of the Blue Grass Community Foundation. ACB’s new program will begin in the spring. There will be no cost to program participants, as the program is being funded by Ephraim McDowell Health and Morning Pointe of Danville. Individuals who are caring for loved ones with dementia are invited to contact ACB to find out more about participating in the program.