“For people living with dementia in nursing facilities, so much of their day is decided for them. There’s very little choice built into their day. This program offers a respite from that.”
by Christine Jackson
April 5, 2022
Courtesy of Laumeier Sculpture Park
Each week, a group of eight artists gathers to work on abstract art pieces. They make choices about color and shape, trying new techniques and new materials. After 10 weeks of work, they will display their pieces in an exhibition for all to see. They’re not professionals, but not quite hobbyists either. These eight artists are the inaugural class of Laumeier Sculpture Park’s Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program.
OMA is a research-based, intergenerational art program for people living with dementia, developed at Miami University. Last year, Laumeier became the first sculpture park in the country to earn OMA certification, and in February the park’s three facilitators launched the program alongside a team of Maryville University occupational therapy students.
Laumeier was interested in OMA pre-pandemic, but didn’t have the budget for travel and training. But when COVID-19 moved training online, that opportunity, plus a generous bequest from longtime Laumeier docent Ann Bauer for senior arts programming, provided Laumeier a clear path forward.
“All of these things came together,” says Laumeier Deputy Director Stacy West. “The necessity for taking programs to nursing homes, the fact that OMA went online and we got this foundational gift to fund our staff members going through the training…everything aligned to make this program happen.”
Now, once a week, Laumeier facilitators and eight occupational therapy students head to Delmar Gardens West in Chesterfield. Each student is specifically paired with an artist and works with them one-on-one to establish a routine and familiarity while creating the abstract art projects.
“Artists always are making choices,” says Learning and Engagement Specialist Elsie Tuttle. “It’s always built in, and it gives them a real sense of ownership of the project… For people living with dementia in nursing facilities, so much of their day is decided for them. There’s very little choice built into their day. This program offers a respite from that.”
In addition to entertainment and therapy, the program offers chances for connection across generations. As part of the program’s goal of gathering more research on dementia and the arts, students reflect on their experiences after each session. After just two weeks, many were already developing meaningful relationships with the artists.
Though the initial program is limited to Delmar Gardens West, Laumeier plans to run the program on site at the park this fall and open it to the public.
“We’re really excited about the possibility of providing more engaging art programming for people in St. Louis with dementia who just haven’t had that before,” says Tuttle. “I think with the possibility of expanding the program as we continue practicing it and getting the funding, we can really open it up to a lot of people who need it.”
What is Opening Minds Through Art?
The Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program was developed by Dr. Elizabeth “Like” Lokon with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University. The program’s mission is to “build bridges across age and cognitive barriers through art.”
The program engages students and seniors in art-making activities through the use of a 12-step process that provides a routine and structure for the comfort of the person living with dementia. These steps include weekly introductions and goodbyes, singing familiar songs together, and opportunities for choice and creative decisions. Through this process, the program’s facilitators hope to accomplish four goals:
1. Promoting the social engagement, autonomy, and dignity of people living with dementia (PLWD) by providing creative self-expression opportunities.
2. Providing staff and volunteers with opportunities to build intimate relationships with PLWD.
3. Showing the public the creative self-expression capacities of PLWD through exhibitions of their work.
4. Contributing to scholarly literature on dementia care and the arts.
Jackson is managing editor of St. Louis Magazine. Like this story? Want to share other feedback? Send Jackson an email at [email protected]
April 5, 2022
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