Wednesday, 5 May 2010

North West Arts and Health Network Event:

There is a growing awareness that whilst humans are living longer (depending on your global post-code!) and science strives to cure disease, we’re nowhere near having the ‘magic bullet’ for dementia.

Charismatic and articulate individuals like Sir Terry Pratchet who are going through life with dementia are beginning to reduce the stigma associated with the disease and to an extent, reduce fear and raise awareness.
 I’m most certainly not an expert in this field, but have had the pleasure of meeting individuals who are including people with the disease, those working in the field in a caring capacity, and those who believe that the arts have something to offer this issue.

I’ve read a little of Gene Cohen’s work on the subject and the wealth of experience offered by Anne Davis Basting in her very readable ‘Forget Memory’ which sets out example of practice that creates better lives for people living with dementia. 

Last year I had the pleasure of hearing Carrie McGee from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, sharing work from the MoMA  Alzheimer's Project which set out a trailblazing programme of activity, introducing people affected by dementia to iconic 20th Century art from its collection. The impact this has had on individuals and carers is profound, as is the passion and conviction of those educators running the programme.  

More recently I have begun a very practical working relationship with an NHS dementia assessment unit where one of Ian Roberts' inspirational MMU, MA Three Dimensional Design students is working with hand crafted objects to stimulate discussion and engagement. It’s too early to elaborate on this work yet, but its been very enthusiastically embraced by those working in the unit. 

During a panel discussion held at Staffordshire University last week, I sat alongside colleagues from the wider arts/health field and heard stimulating and challenging accounts of arts activity with older people in general and more specifically, around the issue of dementia. It seems there’s a lot of activity out there that engages people meaningfully, challenges and stimulates and raises wider understanding around aging and illness.  

And with the very unsettling, ‘Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes?’ broadcast by the BBC earlier in the year, I am mindful of a huge area of need in the delivery of care for our most vulnerable elders. Can the arts offer something to this primary agenda?  

I’d like to invite submissions of arts-based practice for sharing at the networking event on the 27 May between 6:00 and 8:00 here at MMU.

What do I mean by this? Well, people have talked about film they’ve been involved in; dance and gallery based work. I am happy to facilitate an event that gives opportunities to discuss this, sharing film/materials and raising our own awareness of each other’s practice and aspirations.

If I have sufficient interest to put on a stimulating event, I will provide detail the week before. So if you’re interested in this idea, but don’t have work to share, please make a note of the date.

Something that has stayed with me and that I hope will influence this event is a focus on the possibilities of flourishing whilst experiencing dementia. Gene Cohen and Anne Basting both talk about cognition most certainly being impaired by dementia, but the resulting impact on inhibition has a profound effect on an individuals creative potential through imagination…which it’s suggested, can thrive.

So, what’s your practice and would you like to share it?


To make this event manageable and enable discussion to be had on the evening, I’d be grateful if you could email  with any suggestions for your input, by Friday May 14.

These lovely images are from Arthur and Martha


  1. There is a really amazing film we just saw, on how the creative arts is helping individuals with dementia. It is called "I Remember Better When I Paint". We heard about it in an article in Alz./Dementia weekly and got the DVD on amazon. Dr Gene Cohen is featured in the film, along with other aging experts, and examples of individuals w/ dementia engaging in the creative arts, and why this works, and shows imagination is intact to the very end.

  2. Thanks so much for this Cathi. I haven't seen it, but will certainly look at it. Has anyone else got links to resources such as this. It would be good to have a real variety of things to share on May 27th...Clive

  3. Just wanted to say thanks for the shout out on the book, and thanks for your thoughtful work here - I'm trying to muster up kindred spirits in the States. I'm heading to Europe on Friday - talking about creative engagement in dementia care in Florence (29th), Bad Aussee, Austria (2nd) and Zurich on the 5th/6th. I'm working on an amazing new project that might be of interest -

    all the best and keep up the amazing work -

  4. Anne...great to hear from you and good luck with the European tour! I'm sure people who follow this blog will be keen to keep up with the Penelope Project too. Very best...Clive