What is Art Is…In all about and how did it come to be?
Art Is…In is an art-at-home experience for those with memory loss and their care partners. Its current form was designed following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of a similar in-person program. Art Is…In began as a pilot program in fall 2020 with the help of the University of Chicago Medicine’s Memory Center, which had been a partner in this programming’s predecessor for 10 years.
I wanted the Art Is…In program to overcome any geographical, technological, or economic barriers; to reach everyone at home and not require any technology or money. I decided to send everything through the mail (who doesn’t love getting mail); the program requires only a phone connection and it costs nothing to the participants. Every week boxes with supplies for the activity are sent out; people sit down, open it up, and get started.
The weekly kits are packed up, sent out, and supported by medical school students who are mostly pre-med, offering that important community a chance to see the power of the arts in dementia care. And the mail format allows the program to reach people who may not have had access to it before, in the comfort and ease of their own homes.
Who initially inspired you to grapple with dementia?
I was inspired to work with this community after seeing how my grandmother, when battling dementia, was at peace when she was painting. Even though dementia is a tough diagnosis and very difficult to live with, making art is all about being in the moment.
I think everyone should be creating art, but people living with memory loss and their caregivers perhaps gain more from it than anyone else. I have personally seen families and lives in the dementia community changed because of the arts.
How has working on dementia-related art changed you?
Sometimes, I envy how people living with dementia can achieve a concentration flow while making art; that is a process that is difficult for me as living in the moment is challenging with life’s distractions and to-do lists.
An additional change that I’ve noted: thanks to my work with older adults and the discovery that experience can fuel creativity, I am excited about aging in a new way.
Finally, I am learning about the importance of paying attention to everyday life. Since working with the dementia community, I have started to record the mundane, the forgettable, the daily beauty in dinner prep, toys, a cup of coffee with my favorite cookie. I might not remember all of them as I age, but I want to celebrate and record what I see.
How has Art Is…In been received?
The program has had huge success with people living all over the contiguous United States. We have reached 27 states and almost 800 participants with the help of more than 130 student volunteers.
“You’ve brought happiness to my mom”Donna C, caregiver
“So grateful for what you are doing. While juggling caregiving, it’s delightful to receive our package of creative goodies. It’s a place where I can ease back to being a friend and daughter”Y., caregiver
“We were communicating through the painting. I was surprised! We were like a team. I had completely relaxed and my anxiety completely went away”Curtis, caregiver
“It allowed her to feel that she could still experience life”Allen J, caregiver
This work is dedicated to: This program I dedicate to my grandmother, who showed me the power of the arts in dementia care.
Find more information about this program via the University of Chicago Medicine web page.