Spotlight: Making art accessible through Artzheimers

This story has been republished with the author’s permission. To read the original article click here.

When the Artzheimers group visits Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetū the members are stimulated, not just by the paintings on the wall, but also by the caring presentations they hear from curators and guides.

The Artzheimers name reflects a connection to the arts, and of course that the Gallery is well aware of what impact that diseases of the mind such as Alzheimer’s and dementia can have on senior citizens.

The Artzheimers group, organised in a collaboration between the Gallery and Dementia Canterbury, visit the Gallery to learn about works including those in the Historical Art Collection, which is sponsored by Ryman Healthcare.

A recent Artzheimers trip to the Gallery was an eye opener. The group was spellbound by the commentary provided by Gallery staff. Education and Public Programmes team leader Lana Coles and guide Sara Newman gave interpretations of some of the art works to the older citizens. They provided commentary to provoke memories and feelings for the visitors.

A morning session at the Gallery, like others held over the years, can result in humour, laughter and engagement especially from those within the Artzheimers group. And a version of Turn Turn Turn, a song written by folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, heralds the start of the session.

Then Sara Newman talks to the audience on meanings and memories that can be attributed to works in the heritage collection. The group comes alive with answers to her questions and commentary about paintings that reflect gardens, sunflowers and the changing of the seasons. An Evelyn Page painting of Road through Arrowtown is perhaps a reminder of the onset of autumn. Can you see the faint sunlight as it slips through an avenue of trees? Sara asks the group.

The socialising and stimulation of keeping minds active over an hour session with something fresh and new has proven results. “They can stay ‘up’, for about three days afterwards,” Lana says.

“And the sessions are light, they’re fun, I mean it’s not heavy art theory we’re giving them.”

Blair Jackson says the Gallery had benefited from a long-running relationship with Ryman Healthcare, and is grateful for the partnership which was based on the display of historical works and with Ryman now supporting the Artzheimers programme.

Ryman Healthcare Chief Executive Gordon MacLeod said Ryman was delighted to help.

“We care for thousands of New Zealanders with Alzheimer’s and dementia and we know what a big difference a programme like this can make to their lives. Dementia Canterbury and the Christchurch Art Gallery deserve all the support they can get for this programme, and we are privileged to be able to help.’’

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About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.