Picturing New Connections: An Art Program for People with Memory Loss

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 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 here at Gari Melchers Home & Studio.

I’m interested in developing programs for our region’s underserved populations. So, I started researching museum programs for people with memory loss, and the closest museum I could find that offered this type of programming was the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. 


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.

Pilot Program

That day’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 (lower right corner below). This Free Lance-Star article does a good job describing the morning’s activities.

Currently, we plan on offering Picturing New Connections twice a year.

I love this quote about the benefits of viewing and making art in the dementia community and look forward to many more programs to come.

 “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

~ Michelle Crow-Dolby, Education and Communications Manager, Gari Melchers Home & Studio

Further Reading

MeetMe The MoMA Alzheimer’s Project: Making Art Accessible to People with Dementia

The Pablo Picasso Alzheimer’s Therapy, The New York Times

Memories in the Making, Alzheimer’s Association

As America ages, museums are adapting to audiences with memory loss, StarTribune

Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Alzheimer’s Association

10 Tips for Communicating with a Person with Dementia

How museums are Helping People with Memory Loss, Smithsonian Magazine

Opening Doors to Memory and Imagination: Creating a Museum Program for People with Memory Loss, Compiled by Jane Tygesson

The I’m Still Here Foundation

Picturing New Connections, a new art program for people with early-stage memory loss, Free Lance-Star

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