Art Matters: A Partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association
Art Matters. It connects us and enhances our lives. Nine times a year, the Chrysler Museum of Art partners with the Southeastern Virginia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to provide an early-stage engagement program within the Museum. Last spring, we were forced to suspend the program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now in its fourth year, we are excited to bring Art Matters back to the community with virtual experiences starting September 11. Hosting Art Matters virtually allows for museum experiences that are both enriching and safe. The September program will introduce participants to contemporary glass artworks in Dan Dailey: Character Sketch. The exhibition features pieces that are inspired by human character and based upon the artist’s direct observation of the world.
“Art Matters is a program that brings purpose to the lives of those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. For so many, a diagnosis of dementia can begin to define the person’s entire existence and dominate activities in their lives. Art Matters gives participants the opportunity to come together in a safe space with others navigating the disease but to do something unrelated to the disease. We don’t really talk about dementia at all but explore an entirely new world of the arts”
–Katie McDonough, LCSW, the Director of Programs & Services for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Southeastern Virginia Chapter.
During each Art Matters program, we focus on open-ended questions that allow participants to express feelings and ideas rather than coming up with “correct” answers. For example, we may ask how the material used to create an artwork relates to the subject matter. Other questions may encourage participants to recall a time they traveled or consider how they might express a particular theme through art. With casual discussions, participants can choose how much they want to engage. The experience is just as valuable for the care partners as it is for those with dementia, and it serves as a meaningful activity for both to do together.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York is a leader in museum experiences for those with dementia, and a study of their program noted that participants feel demonstrably happier after participating in a program than before. There is also noted value in the sense of acceptance and belonging, social interaction, and a shared intellectual experience. We believe the Chrysler’s program accomplishes similar benefits for the participants.
“Every guest, no matter their age or ability, sees and experiences art differently. My job as a docent is to reach my audience on a level that will enhance their experience, maybe teach them something new, and learn from them”
–Chrysler Docent Shirley Confino-Rehder
Art Matters is successful because of our dedicated docents who work in pairs to develop custom tours that are meant to engage everyone involved. Chrysler Docent Shirley Confino-Rehder strives to ensure positive and enriching encounters with art. With many families attending multiple sessions, we form a small community and enjoy the opportunities to spend time with those we have connected with us over the years. For Sue Ellen Kaplan, giving tours for Art Matters is very heart-warming and rewarding. “I’m not sure what drew me to attend the training, but I guess something known directed me there,” she said. “I was concerned about bringing up memories, but I’ve learned it offers a way to go back to special and happy times.”
The Chrysler Museum exists “to enrich and transform lives. We bring art and people together through experiences that delight, inform, and inspire.” Our partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association is directly related to our mission. We aim to bring together individuals with Alzheimer’s, their care partners, and staff and volunteers of the Museum as a community to contemplate and discuss art together. Through these conversations, we learn about each other, revisit memories, and make connections with the present. The intimate gatherings allow each individual a voice and a warm and open response. Together, we have discovered art from different times and cultures.
For more information about Art Matters and to register for the September program, please contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800-272-3900. Learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association and its free resources at www.alz.org.
For more information about the Museum’s partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Emily Shield, Public Programs Coordinator