For information about Arts & Minds, contact Carolyn Halpin-Healy, Executive Director, by email
Making a Difference
Arts & Minds Participants Speak, April 2012
Arts & Minds Celebrates First Exhibition Opening at Lumen Gallery, NYC
April 23, 2012 marked Arts & Minds’ first-ever exhibition opening at Lumen Gallery in New York City, celebrating the artwork created by the program’s participants at The Studio Museum in Harlem over the course of the year.
In the Fall of 2011, program participants dove deep into collage, inspired by the Studio Museum’s Fall exhibition, The Bearden Project. Watercolors, newspaper, and even natural materials such as eucalyptus and twigs were used to interpret the participant’s own creative responses to various works from The Bearden Project. The evolution of the participants’ technique and ability was clearly visible that night, and the framed artworks were proof of how powerful art can be as a therapeutic tool. Meanwhile, the artists behind the artwork glowed with pride.
“It’s so amazing to see how we have all evolved,” one participant commented, “to see your work up like this is like a dream come true.”
Arts & Minds is a non-profit organization committed to improving quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Providing meaningful art-centered activities to museums, community centers and nursing homes, Arts & Minds strives to create positive cognitive experience
At the Williams College Museum of Art, Museum Associates are trained to lead guided tours for all types of audiences—from kindergarten classes to college students. Museum Associates are trained in weekly sessions to deepen their knowledge about the exhibitions on view, art history, and teaching strategies.
Emily Arensman, who received her M.A. from Williams in art history in 2010, worked at the Williams College Museum of Art both as a Museum Associate and as an intern. There, she learned to connect the museum’s exhibitions to the Williams undergraduate experience. Now, as the coordinator of public programs at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, she is creating programs for senior citizens.
“These audiences aren’t necessarily dissimilar,” she says. “Both programs challenge audiences to actively engage with the collection and works on view, to discuss new ideas, and to relate what they learn to their own lives and experiences.”
The Whitney’s Senior Programsbrings art programming directly to 40 senior centers. A large number of the participants are low-income immigrants, many who need translation services to participate. To that end, Arensman actively seeks trained educators who speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and Spanish. “The accessible, inclusive, and free programs we provide create opportunities for social engagement and lifelong learning among a rapidly growing and diverse aging population in New York City,” she says.
“As a graduate student, I was given the opportunity to engage with some of the most pioneering scholars in the art field,” says Arensman. “While course work, travel, and independent research helped to shape my intellectual pursuits, the work-study program at the Williams College Museum of Art provided me the chance to develop skills outside of the library and seminar room. At the Whitney, I find that I consistently draw from my coursework and internship experience to help develop programs that will challenge adult audiences to think critically about the works on view and larger trends in American art and culture.”
Arensman isn’t the only graduate from the Williams graduate art history program working with the aging population in New York City. Carolyn Halpin-Healy, who received her M.A. from the graduate art history program in 1986, has just launched a website for her non-profit arts organization calledArts & Minds. Specifically focused on providing high-quality arts programming to people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, Arts & Minds also focuses on the role of the caregivers.
“There is a high rate of caregiver burnout for both professionals and family members,” explains Halpin-Healy. “As the person with dementia changes, there is a great deal of stress on relationships and rates of depression and other stress related illnesses are very high. Our goal is to provide meaningful activities of the highest quality for both the person with Alzheimer’s and the caregiver, and to build communication between the two.”
Arts & Minds, which partners with residential institutions, such as community centers and nursing homes, as well as art museums, anchors its programs in the aesthetic experience. Each program begins with participants gathered around a work of art. The experience is about response and interpretation, with older adults bringing their own histories of experience to the process of discerning the meaning of the piece. “Engaging with art doesn’t depend on memory,” explains Halpin-Healy. “We can all enjoy the formal elements of a work of art and when we do so in the company of others, it becomes a very rich experience.”
“Art,” she says, “stimulates very different processes in the brain. The neural connections responsible for vision, memory, language, emotion, and imagination are all activated. Art truly has the power to inspire and transform.”
Above images, top to bottom: The Whitney’s Senior Programs, photo by Tiffany Oelfke; Arts & Minds, photo courtesy of Arts & Minds.
“I Remember When I Paint” Airs on Public Broadcasting Stations in New York & New Jersey in February 2012
I Remember Better When I Paint, narrated by Olivia de Havilland, is the first international documentary about the positive impact of art and other creative therapies on people with Alzheimer’s and how these approaches can change the way we look at the disease. Among those who are featured are noted doctors and Yasmin Aga Khan, president of Alzheimer’s Disease International and daughter of Rita Hayworth, who had Alzheimer’s. A film by Eric Ellena and Berna Huebner, presented by French Connection Films and the Hilgos Foundation.
New York and New Jersey TV broadcast dates during the month of February for I Remember Better When I Paint:
MANHATTAN—On this Tuesday afternoon in a gallery at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a group of adults with dementia and their caretakers listen to a lecture on the work of abstract expressionist Alvin Loving.
Participants use brightly colored scraps of paper to mimic the vivid counterpoint in Loving’s collage.
“Loving is particularly know for his vibrant counterpoint,” says the energetic teaching artist while making sweeping motions with her hands. “The collage is almost caught in the act of moving.”
The participants discuss the color and texture of Loving’s collage. And just for a moment they are no longer Alzheimer’s patients and caretakers. They are art critics.
The afternoon gallery talk is a part of the programming of Arts & Minds, a new nonprofit in New York City that partners with local museums to sponsor arts programs for adults suffering from memory disorders. Today the Harlem museum program offers a gallery conversation and a hands-on art activity. It encourages people with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers to engage with works of art and with each other.
“The prevailing cultural narrative about Alzheimer’s is very dark—it’s about shutting down and not knowing people,” says Carolyn Halpin-Healy, program director and co-founder.
“But our program is about emotion and imagination.”
Halpin-Healy worked for 20 years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an educator.
Three years ago, she met a neurologist from Columbia University, James M. Noble, who attended her workshop for people with dementia.
“I went out of curiosity,” Noble said. “I was wondering, ‘How does an Alzheimer’s patient go to an arts program? What do they even get out of it?’”
Executive Director of Arts & Minds Carolyn Halpin-Healy, right, works alongside the participants in the workshop.
By watching the workshop participants interact with their caregivers, Noble learned the arts program was about the experience of art rather than the creation of art.
“I really got the sense that people who were there with their loved ones got a lot out of it,” he added.
Noble envisioned a similar program in the Harlem community near the local hospital where he worked. Soon after, he and Halpin-Healy conceived a new idea: Arts & Minds. A year later, the program received a grant from the Friends of Harlem Hospital, and in 2010 they launched a pilot series at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Both Noble and Haplin-Healy explain that the program is vital for caregivers as well as participants–caregiver burnout is a significant public health problem.
Noble also added that Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects the whole family, not just the individual.
Teaching artist and illustrator Sarah Mostow leads the gallery discussion and the art project.
“The major role of a neurologist is to support the family,” he said. “Suggesting medication changes is only a small component of the job.”
However, he admits that many still consider art therapy a “fringe” idea.
“A lot of people lump holistic medicine in with chiropractics and quackery,” Noble said.
“But the people who go tend to be sold. Sometimes when you are there in the moment at the museum, you’ll see a caregiver’s eyebrows raise and face light up as they watch their mother or grandmother or husband. That’s when you realize you are doing the right thing.”
Back in front of Loving’s collage at the museum, a woman timidly raises her hand to respond to the teaching artist.
“I’m not sure it’s the painting that’s moving,” she observed. “When you look at it, there is movement in your mind.”