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Community of Learners: Art and Alzheimer's

Hood Quarterly, summer 2008

In 2006 the Hood and a local retirement community, Kendal at Hanover, initiated a collaboration that brings people who have Alzheimer’s to the museum to view works of art.The idea was inspired by an article in the New York Times that described similar programs being offered by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Those museums and their partner organizations have found that engagement with the visual arts has a positive effect on people with memory impairment, often improving their moods and stimulating them to engage in conversation and creative interpretation and expression beyond levels they would otherwise on a daily basis.

Over the past two years, several groups from Kendal’s Whittier residence who have memory impairment have visited the museum. Staff members from both Kendal and the Hood have observed that tour 11 participants have been extremely engaged in looking at the works of art and discussing them.The inquiry-based approach used by the museum’s education department in teaching is an excellent fit for the needs of this audience. Coaching received from the Director of Social Services at Kendal as well as from a colleague at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, about the nature of Alzheimer’s and how it affects people’s behavior and abilities was extremely helpful in planning and shaping the museum experience as well.While Curator of Education Lesley Wellman has led all of the tours so far, other members of the education staff and docents are being trained to work with this specialized audience so that we can continue this exciting collaboration.

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