REAL LIFE ART: Lismore Regional Gallery implements its new Art & Dementia Program.
REAL LIFE ART: Lismore Regional Gallery implements its new Art & Dementia Program.

Art recognises the memory

LAST week, the gallery hosted two staff members from the National Gallery of Australia, who work on their Art & Dementia Program. They were here to train our volunteer guides and staff on the running of a similar art and dementia program here in Lismore.

The National Gallery of Australia has been running variations of their Art & Dementia Program since 2007, so have certainly gained the necessary skills in this area.

Many other galleries across the country have since started implementing programs specially for people living with dementia, and now, given we have a much better capacity to conduct programs such as this, Lismore Regional Gallery is in the process of implementing an art and dementia program.

So what's so unique about running an art and dementia program? A 2006 study at the University of Wisconsin found that people living with dementia, who went through an intentionally developed creative program, recorded a whole host of positive benefits including: Positive emotional responses; Reduction in agitation; Greater social engagement/interaction; Change in cognitive processes; Increased verbal fluency; Functional improvements; Increased food intake and subsequent weight gain; Increased mobility; Greater physical strength and balance; Improved mood and attention span; Less stress (caregivers and receivers alike); Elevated quality of life and greater understanding of the human condition.

An exhibition of visual art can have an almost limitless range of elements that can spark the imagination of any viewer. For a person with dementia, deeply embedded memories can be brought to the fore through seeing and discussion even the most humble of elements.

Perhaps they are reminded of going to a dance when they were young, a child's toy could remind them of being a young parent of a vibrant colour remind them of a similar wall paper in a childhood home.

Last week, here at the gallery, the two day session also included a gallery tour and workshop for residents of local care facilities, led by the National Gallery staff. At the conclusion of the tour, one of the participants exclaimed: "I feel so alive"! One of the woman's family members, who were also in attendance, commented on how happy they were to see her so engaged with the artmaking process.

Last week's training program was the first step in the gallery becoming better able to implement an art and dementia program, which we hope to roll out in the near future.

Finally, this Thursday, 16th August at 6pm, we'll be hosting the winner of the 2018 Hurford Hardwood Portrait Prize, Nicole Kelly along with other finalists, Zom Osbourne and Todd Fuller, as they discuss what portraiture means to their work, and how they approach their practice. Todd is also here to conduct an animation workshop with high school students - yet another example of the gallery becoming alive with ways to enhance people's learning and quality of life.


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