Photo credit: Fiona Bailey
Every First Tuesday was a monthly dementia-friendly art program I ran at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, UK. People living with dementia and their carers would join me for a chat and tour of the art gallery followed by tea or coffee in the café from 2-4pm.
I would select 3-4 artworks to discuss and prepared sensory and creative activities that allowed different routes to access the art. For example, I played sounds that evoked the atmosphere of an artwork, printed out lines of poetry for the group to read, or passed around a basket of objects and textured materials for people to select from and handle during discussions. Touching things in an art gallery is generally off limits. Introducing sounds, poetry, and things to manipulate makes ideas and themes represented in artworks more tangible, stimulates the senses, and sparks discussion.
Throughout the sessions, I wrote down snippets of conversations or ‘word gatherings’. I read these out to circle back to an idea or summarize the discussion so far. After the sessions, I typed out the word gatherings and emailed them to the group, along with pictures of the artworks we looked at. The word gatherings validated people’s voices and their interpretations of the artworks, while extending the experience beyond the gallery.
At its core, Every First Tuesday was about giving people living with dementia and their carers an enjoyable and enriching experience outside the house. Meeting for coffee after the tour was just as important as the tour itself, as it gave participants a chance to socialize and offer support and encouragement to one another. Many participants were members of Abbot Hall Art Gallery before they were diagnosed with dementia and coming to Every First Tuesday allowed them to continue doing what they enjoyed. The program supported Kendal’s aging population in living well through cultural engagement by giving older people opportunities to get inspired by art, connect with one another, and learn something new in a stimulating environment.
It was an absolute pleasure running this program and I was routinely inspired by things people said while sitting around an artwork. Here are a few excerpts from Every First Tuesday word gatherings: