Tidewater Arts Outreach’s Recent Opening Minds Through Art Workshop

Observations on an impactful visual arts workshop presented by Tidewater Arts Outreach, in partnership with Sentara Life Care

Opening Minds Through Art?  Wow, does it ever!  I came to realize that Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) is about so much more than working with seniors who have dementia to enable them to create lovely works of modern art. Minds are opened across the board in this well-conceived process.   1.  All staff receives training about the process, learning, when, where and for how long resident art-making happens.  Staff develop an appreciation for the process and its outcomes, and are encouraged not to disrupt for unnecessary intercom announcements, pills, PT, or other ADLs (activities of daily living).  Staff also has the opportunity to get to know their patients on another, more humanizing level.  The art-making allows them to focus on residents as individuals and to see their abilities, rather than disabilities.  Many are amazed by what is still possible, and how rewarding art-work can be.

2.  Young people serve as one-on-one partners and learn about the rich histories of the artists: they were pilots, judges, Broadway actresses, CEOs, brain surgeons and more.  They better understand the human condition, the needs of the very eldest in our midst, and their own mortality.  3.  The seniors themselves have their minds opened through the process of creating art – they use logic, reasoning, executive thought processes and creative self-expression (and more).  The intellectual stimulation and the humanistic value of “What does this painting say about me?”  cannot be under-estimated in an institutionalized world where almost every individual freedom has been forsaken in the name of safety and security.

4.  Family members who may have decided months ago that there’s nothing much left but a shell or shadow of their former loved one are often amazed at the creative self-expression they witness.

Workshop participants learned this about dementia:  as intellectual abilities erode, other abilities rise to the surface.  Emotional empathy makes seniors with dementia more sensitive, and more vulnerable.   Some aspects, like creativity and personality, are the last to leave as other cognition fails.

Elizabeth Lokon founded OMA in 2008, after deciding that dementia was the most difficult prognosis she could imagine for herself.  She immersed herself in the study of dementia and in the creation of this program, and she now says, “I’m no longer afraid of it.  I discovered the essence of human potential in people with dementia.”

The OMA workshop received rave reviews from the 29 attendees.  Comments from LTC staff include, “It is a whole new way of looking at working with and improving quality of life for the elderly.”  Another wrote that “Understanding the importance of allowing people with Alzheimer’s the opportunity to use their creativity,” and “learning that art is a form of expression” were valuable lessons for her.    Sadly, another realized that “One person can’t stimulate 40 people at once!,” something that happens all too often.

At TAO we’re dedicated to opening doors, hearts and minds to the possibilities that exist for communities who embrace each other, and the arts, and who make efforts to come together to share comfort, inspiration and creativity as a charitable endeavor.  There is so much untapped human potential, on both sides or the able, if we do.  We thank Elizabeth Lokon for her beautiful process and Sentara Life Care for helping us bring her to share her work with the Hampton Roads community.