By Michelle Crow-Dolby, Education and Communications Manager, Gari Melchers Home & Studio, updated May 9, 2023
“Viewing art is a treatment for Alzheimer’s because it employs and wakes up the parts of a brain that are still functioning, while putting no pressure on the parts of the brain that are not functioning. While they’re engaged in the experience they feel respected as people. They have dignity. They get their personhood back.”John Zeisel, founder of Artists for Alzheimer’s
Sitting in a doctor’s office a few years ago, I picked up an old copy of Neurology Now and read an article that intrigued me as a museum educator. The author described a new tour, Meet Me at MoMA, introduced by the Museum of Modern Art in 2006 to specifically engage individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia and their caregivers. This single article started a chain reaction that would ultimately lead to the creation of Picturing New Connections (PNC) here at Gari Melchers Home & Studio.
I am passionate about creating and teaching museum programs for underserved community members. Given that no museum within a sixty mile radius was offering memory loss programs, I sensed an opportunity for our museum to serve our region in a unique and meaningful way. As my research, site visits, conferences, articles, books, and workshops began to accumulate, I found I had enough material to fit into a large binder. It was time to make this project a reality.
Meeting Lori Myers with the Alzheimer’s Association early in this process and sharing my dream with her was the best thing that could have happened. She and I would connect on occasion at professional activities, and I would share my updates/setbacks with her. At one point, a few years in, we both agreed, let’s just do it! Sitting on my classroom’s blue preschool-sized chairs one day, we hammered out the logistical framework for a pilot program. Lori would handle the outreach, docent training, and registration, and I would tackle the programming bit. I designed a flyer, created a Facebook event listing, and we were off and running.
The pilot program took place in March of this year. A few days prior to the program, Lori came in to teach a few of our staff members about Alzheimer’s Disease, provide some communication tips, and answer questions.
Th pilot program’s lesson plan, Gari Melchers’ Art: Listen, Smell, Touch focused on two of Gari Melchers’ paintings and a carved cigar store Indian by Gari’s dad and sculptor, Julius Melchers. I incorporated sound, smell, and touch into our art looking experience to create a multi-sensory experience. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed light snacks in the Pavilion and created their own stained glass window. This Free Lance-Star article does a good job describing the morning’s activities.
Since 2019, PNC has grown and is now offered quarterly. I continue to partner with the Alzheimer’s Association for outreach, program, and staff support.
The Pablo Picasso Alzheimer’s Therapy, The New York Times
Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Alzheimer’s Association
How Museums are Helping People with Memory Loss, Smithsonian Magazine