Saline’s Brecon Village Memory Support Center was transformed into an art gallery on Thursday evening, with beautiful artwork filling the gathering space with bright colors and designs. Visitors and residents were able to view the fine art while they listened to live piano music, and then enjoy delicious food and drink and a brief gallery talk by the coordinator of the exhibit. There was even a chance to try out some of the art projects created by MSC residents and gain an understanding of the creative process.
Anne Mondro, Associate Professor at University of Michigan’s Stamps School of Art & Design was the creative force behind this vibrant exhibit and the art programming at Brecon Village that led up to it. Mondro teamed up with Cassie Starback, Program Director at the Memory Support Center, who had worked with Anne on grant opportunities through the University of Michigan. Their goal was “to build community partnerships to promote health, well-being, dignity, awareness, [and] respect for those who are living with memory loss.”
Mondro has been working on creating art projects with people “who may be experiencing changes in memory” and their families for 12 years. In working with the families of memory care patients, Mondro says that they “have taught me what it means to be resilient, to truly care for another person, and to have some fun together...to look beyond dementia and to honor the person.” These great experiences for both Mondro and the families began by simply making art together.
Art brings people together and is a unique way to express yourself when you otherwise might feel a loss of a sense of self. According to Mondro, the opportunity to make creative decisions - what color to use, where to put a drop of ink, how a pattern will work out - are important ways to express personal feelings and ideas that may be difficult to get across otherwise. On top of these benefits, it is also a way to be social, to get to know others and get outside of yourself.
Art, dance, and music also encourage well-being, and are being recognized the world over for their importance in health care and recovery. The Arts Council of England, for example, promotes dementia awareness, and supports programming to incorporate dance, art, and music into the lives of those with memory loss throughout the country.
We don’t have to go to England for these programs, however. According to Mondro, Brecon Village is at the forefront of this type of programming, and this art exhibit was proof of that.
Mondro began last year by training the staff at the Memory Support Center of Brecon Village. The staff members had an opportunity to do the art projects together that the residents would be creating, and were trained on how to help the residents as they worked.
Later, as Mondro introduced each project to the MSC residents, the staff were then able to be on-hand to guide and help the residents while still allowing them to make decisions on their own. The residents (and staff) didn’t have to have any art experience in order to participate, as the finished pieces were meant to be abstract and unique to each person creating it. The focus was on pattern, color, texture, and line, and results were achieved in a variety of ways. In one project, for example, residents would lay sticks out on a piece of paper in a pattern of their choosing, and then would sprinkle colorful watercolor crystals overtop of them. They would then spray water on the crystals, and beautiful colors would flow onto the paper and over the sticks, which, once removed, left surprising patterns and very bright results.
This element of surprise was a key for Mondro. She encouraged everyone to “just try it out” and see what surprises would come, whether they were creating patterns in paint, dropping ink onto paper, or laying out tissue paper and painting over it with water to allow the colors to bleed together. The final product of each project was unique and exciting to see in the dozens and dozens of art pieces on exhibit Thursday evening.
This isn’t the end of Mondro’s relationship with the Memory Support Center, though. She is partnering with Charlie Michaels, Assistant Director of Student and Faculty Engagement at University of Michigan’s Center for Socially Engaged Design, and the youth and young adults from The Corner Health Center’s Youth Leadership Council for a big project that will begin this fall. Mondro and Michaels are currently training the youth, who chose this project themselves, on how to work with memory care patients and how to make the pieces flourish in the hands of the residents. The project, called “Between the Earth and the Sky”, is focused around the winter & summer solstice, and will guide the Brecon Village Memory Support Center residents through two big art projects that will be celebrated in December 2017 and June 2018.