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Easter Seals participants talk about “My Family” by Marisol. Kelly Sennott photo.




Visit the Currier Museum of Art

Where: 150 Ash St., Manchester
Contact: currier.org, 669-6144, ext. 122
“Experience this Moment”: On view downstairs through June 18
Alzheimer’s Cafe: Wednesdays, May 11, June 8, July 13 and Aug. 10, from 2 to 4 p.m.




Art and memories
Sparking creativity in people with Alzheimer’s, dementia

05/05/16
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 Once a month, Easter Seals participants visit the Currier Museum of Art to talk about and respond to gallery artwork. During their most recent trip, one of the subjects was “My Family” by Marisol.

The Easter Seals group, made up of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, sat on wooden stools while observing the sculpture depicting a grouchy-looking family with two kids and a baby, dressed to go out. Lynn Thomson wanted to know: What do you see? What materials are here? Where is this family going?
“Maybe they’re going to church? To a wedding? What other times do you get dressed up?” asked Thomson, assistant educator for adult and family audiences at the museum.
Maybe they’re going dancing, someone said. Or maybe Hawaii.
“If they’re going to Hawaii, they do not look happy about it. Maybe they’re thinking about that 16-hour flight. Or maybe the kids are going to Grandma’s house, and that’s why they’re not happy,” Thomson said. 
The crowd laughed, and one observer suggested the man in the sculpture looked like Donald Trump.
The Currier-Easter Seals Alzheimer’s Cafe program is a new outreach project for the two nonprofits in which folks from Easter Seals with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their caregivers are immersed in art once a week for three months. Three Wednesdays a month, art educator/outreach coordinator Corie Lyford leads art projects at Easter Seals. The last week, participants take a bus to the museum and Thomson leads conversations about gallery artwork.
The program began about a year ago after a discussion between a museum director and an Easter Seals director. The idea was to strengthen what was already at the museum — the Alzheimer’s Cafe, which meets the second Wednesday of the month and is free for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their caregivers — and on the Easter Seals end, find a way to measure the results of incorporating art in Alzheimer’s and dementia programming through an evaluation system designed for this project.
“If you can keep someone focused on the task at hand, there’s a lot of reminiscing that happens. [Art] is a powerful, engaging tool for individuals with cognitive impairment,” said Laurie Duff of Easter Seals via phone. “Being in the business of providing this care for more than 40 years, we know that it’s always a positive thing when we introduce creative expression. … But funders want more than that. They want to see measurable outcomes. … We’re trying to experiment with some indicators for measuring those outcomes as well, but it’s a little bit tricky. You’re dealing with people who are not necessarily able to voice their expressions. You need to look at those nonverbal indicators sometimes.”
The art projects that resulted from this program are on view now through June 18 in the downstairs community gallery, “Experience this Moment.” Along the hallway hang paintings, collages and text panels about the program and Alzheimer’s and quotes by participants. One display asks, do you need to have a good memory to make art? The responses: “No, but it helps.” “No, it just comes out.” “I don’t think so. You need to listen to do it right.”
In general, participants responded best to projects with bright, joyful colors and subjects with people, places or topics that triggered memories or discussion. One of the most successful projects was one in which participants made clay, gold-painted cats.
“You were making something cute that you could hold in your hand, and it really sparked memories and conversations about pets,” Lyford said. “I think the biggest trend, or what I’ve seen in the art projects, is seeing the change in people’s level of happiness and relaxation from the beginning.”
Eva St. Jacques and her daughter and caregiver Lori Ann St. Jacques echoed that sentiment and suggested this was the best part of the Easter Seals program.
“It allows her to express herself through art, and she always used to do that — she was in the choir for 20 years. … She’s always had that artistic ability, and coming here brings out that artistic talent. She was a big gardener and decorator,” Lori Ann St. Jacques said during that Wednesday visit at the museum, and her mom laughed and agreed.
That day, their favorite piece of art depicted a couple ladies and cat laughing hysterically. (“Isn’t it lovely?” Eva St. Jacques said. Her daughter added, pointing to a glass of wine at the center of the painting, “Even the cat’s laughing. Our idea is, the cat might have taken a sip of wine.”)
When Thomson picks out artwork to talk about, she sticks to realistic pieces with figures or places. 
“The art is sort of neutral. If nobody has seen the painting before — or even if they have seen it — you can just sort of look at it and make up stories,” Thomson said. “Today there was a Norman Rockwell painting, and instantly, people said, ‘That’s a soldier returning home. That’s probably his fiance.’ They were talking about the stars and the flags in the window. … You can take the story in any direction, and it can bring up memories.”
This partnership represents a larger effort by the Currier to focus on community outreach. They worked very closely with Easter Seals to tell the story of Alzheimer’s and art.
“It’s really important to us to certainly raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and what it’s like to live with that day to day, both from a client perspective as well as the family perspective, but also really help make people aware of how art fits into that and how art can really play a role in someone’s life,” Duff said. “It’s not the end result — it’s the process and the journey. … For [this population], every moment really does count.” 





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