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Art and the maintenance of memory, social connections

The Frye Art Museum has started a program for Alzheimer's and dementia sufferers that uses their remaining memories to build social connections in an enjoyable setting.

An art discussion at the Frye Art Museum

An art discussion at the Frye Art Museum Jill Hardy/courtesy of the Frye Art Museum

Art museums give us leisure-time enjoyment, social opportunities, education, and inspiration. A new program at the Frye Art Museum provides a reminder that all of those benefits can mean just as much or more to those fighting mental declines.

The museum on Seattle's First Hill recently announced that it is launching a program for people living with various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's, and their caregivers. The program, which has already been tested out in a three-month pilot project, offers people with memory loss and their partners both gallery tours and art-making classes.

Jill Rullkoetter, Frye's senior deputy director for arts engagement programs, said most of the caregiver participants so far have been family or friends. But people from care institutions will likely also take part with dementia sufferers. She said the gallery tours are led with a conversational approach that allows people to give their thoughts and feelings about the art.

"There is a lot of very interesting reminiscing that goes on," Rullkoetter said, noting that long-term memories can be very strong.

In addition to the gallery discussions, the participants also take part in art-making classes at Frye's studio. Their creations, Rullkoetter said, are "really quite beautiful."

"They are drawing on the faculties that they have," she said. "I think that is one of the strengths of this program, to focus on what people have, not what they have lost."

The program, called "here:now," is a partnership with the Western and Central Washington State Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and Seattle-based Elderwise. The combined gallery tour-art class takes place over six Thursday afternoons, with the next series beginning April 7. There are also one-time gallery tours on the fourth Thursday of the month (beginning this week, March 24). All the "here:now" events are free but have limited space and require pre-registration at 206-432-8211 or by emailing herenow@fryemuseum.org.

Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.


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