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Staten Island, New York, United States

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Imagination and the Changing Mind" Panel Discussion at MOMA

Wow. I attended this panel discussion last night, held in a packed auditorium at the Museum of Modern Art. It was presented by the MoMA Alzheimer's Project (http://www.moma.org/meetme/). It blew the lid off my thinking about people with Alzheimer's and about the incredible capacity of ALL our minds to grow through creative interaction. I left feeling so hopeful.

A woodcut Mom did of me when I was in jr. high.
My mother has Alzheimer's. She was a very accomplished watercolorist, exhibiting in Iowa and always improving her skills. She and I were art buddies. We attended ballets, symphony concerts, and art exhibitions together since I was old enough to sit still, at age 7. My parents supported my art lessons at the Sioux City Art Center for years (thank heaven for art centers!). Mom and I were in life drawing classes there together when I was in high school.

Now, we go on daily walks when I visit home. She surprised me one day when she stopped to look at a rabbit on a lawn and said "I know the rabbit and the grass are different colors, but look! They have the same value."  She still sees the world through an artist's eyes. Somehow, I think that without a lot of the junk in her head that fills up so much of our daily thinking, she is truly living in the moment, experiencing the world anew.
A watercolor Mom did of the family cat.
A watercolor Mom did of a New Mexico landscape.

Which brings me back to last night's panel. The panel was very distinguished, made up of scientists and arts professionals. The surface of brain research and related arts programming could only be scratched in an hour and a half. It's astonishing how little has been known until lately about how the aging brain works. There has also been a value system at work in our society, dismissing older people as not being valuable contributors to society and therefore not worthy of study. I think it's changing with Baby Boomers becoming senior citizens and living longer lives. Towards the end of the discussion, some concrete prescriptions were formulated, based on the  research and experience of the panel members.

Here are some actions specifically for people with Alzheimer's but that we can all put into action:

  • Integrate play into education and senior programs (and I would add - into ALL our lives).
  • Increase the number of ways to communicate. 
  • Keep engaging with other people throughout our lives.
  • Keep physically active throughout our lives.
  • Share what we know. We all have a human responsibility to do so.
  • Use art to engage each other emotionally and psychologically.

I had heard about the panel discussion through my part time job at City Access New York, which is a member of the Museum Access Consortium, an organization comprised of representatives of cultural institutions, service organizations, educational institutions, design firms and consultants.  The goal is to enable people with disabilities to access cultural facilities of all types. You can learn more at the website http://www.cityaccessny.org/mac. I have learned alot about changing museum experiences for people with different abilities through attending their discussions.

To see some of my own small collages, visit my Etsy store.

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