Psyching the Zietgeist:
Current Culture Through a Mental Health Lens

Creative Aging at the Frye Art Museum

An interview with Mary Jane Knecht

Our Round Table group—Anne, Sam, Peggy and Judy—met for a conversation with Frye Art Museum’s Mary Jane Knecht about her Creative Aging programs. For five years, the Frye has been offering these programs for older adults with dementia. We learned about here:now, Meet Me at the Movies, and off-site pilot projects.

Here’s a summary of each of the program offerings:

here:now is an arts engagement program for adults living with younger-onset or early to mid-stage dementia. It comprises two programs:

*A six-session class in which they and their care partners (a friend, family member or other companion) view and make art. A museum educator and a teaching artist lead each class. The class includes an informal guided discussion of 1 or 2 paintings in the gallery, followed by art-making in the studio. At the end of each session there’s some social time and a snack.

*A twice-monthly gallery discussion tour in which people with dementia and their care partners can participate in a discussion of 3-4 artworks in the galleries.

Meet Me at the Movies is a quarterly program open to all adults but designed for people with memory loss and their care partners. Film clips are screened, interspersed with facilitated discussion about elements of the films, especially as they connect viewers with deep-rooted emotional memories. For example, a film clip of Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire might stir the viewer’s long-ago memories of dancing.

Pilot projects: Creative Aging is partnering off-site with a continuing care community and an adult day program to pilot a project for those whose dementia has further progressed. Volunteers, sometimes college students in social work or museology programs, work one-to-one with older adults in art-making.

A hallmark of all the Creative Aging programs is the emphasis on the enjoyment to be savored from what’s happening in the moment. By creating an environment where present experience is valued, these programs allow participants, care partners, and leaders to connect in intimate ways. Women in particular are conditioned not to speak up until we’re certain of the right answer. People with dementia tend to more openly express themselves, and the relaxed, creative atmosphere of the Creative Aging programs provide outlets for them to express themselves and engage in facilitated art-making.

We asked Mary Jane what draws people to these programs. The beautiful thing about art, she noted, is that there is no right or wrong answer. Art can be a pathway to elicit conversation and share memories and stories from the past. These programs invite participants to recognize not loss but capacity, and allow them to connect in different, but meaningful ways. Films, naturally, are a wonderful way to stir memories of past experiences.

We thoroughly enjoyed our conversation with Mary Jane and our introduction to some of the many wonderful events and programs at The Frye, including the upcoming premiere of the documentary Speaking of Dying, which is about making end-of-life decisions. It’s on April 16 at 6:30 at the Frye auditorium.

For more information about The Frye Art Museum, click the following links:
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