Do you remember the wonder you felt as a child creating your first work of art? It could have been the gooey touch of finger paint or the surprise of creating something out of nothing after pasting a collage.
Many lose those feelings over time. That’s why it is so wonderful to hear about the success of the Gather at the Gallery program at the Alzheimer Society of Kitchener-Waterloo.
The program allows persons living with dementia to rediscover a love of art through both discussing and creating art. It is the brainchild of Cara Dowhaniuk, Dementia Support Counsellor at AS Kitchener-Waterloo. The landmark art program at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for people with dementia called Meet me at MOMO was her inspiration.
Cara launched Gather at the Gallery in 2011 with the help of a one-year grant from the Kitchener-Waterloo Communication Foundation. She also developed guidelines and brought together 10 galleries and museums to participate. One of the first was the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery.
“People with dementia come with their caregivers for a tour to explore the art. There’s also time to get social with coffee followed by hands-on creation of an art piece,” Cara tells me.
It might have been a long time since participants got their hands into clay or picked up a brush. That’s why the key to the program’s success is a flexible format that can be sensitive to their needs in the moment
“Staff and volunteers really go out of their way to make it a personal one-on-one experience, which empowers people,” she says.
In the first year, Gather at the Gallery had the benefit of research* conducted by Postdoctoral Fellow Lisa Mechino, who earned a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. She is so optimistic about the findings because she witnessed people flourish when discovering abilities and other hidden aspects of themselves.
“Prior to coming many were apprehensive, she says. “There was resistance due to uncertainty. But the creative process broke through the apathy, disconnection and isolation. The program revitalized their relationships, gave them hope for the future and a sense of empowerment.”
Participants love the program. Fifty-four people have completed the two 10-week sessions since it started.
“Some people think dementia is a death sentence,” says Lisa. “I’ve seen them completely turn around after attending.”
Cara and Lisa remember one participant who said he felt his life was over when he was diagnosed. Because of the program’s supportive community, his creativity started to flourish and he became more confident and hopeful.
Another couple became advocates for living a meaningful life. After the season was over, they formed a peer-led social club. “They have a sense of hope. Life isn’t over. There is a lot here that can be done,” Lisa comments.
Gather at the Gallery has a waiting list for the future and to be sustainable, additional funding is needed. If you want to make a donation to this wonderful program, please contact Cara Dowhaniuk at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Funding for the Gather at the Gallery research was made possible by the Alzheimer Society Research Program.