One of the reasons I enjoy working in Access Programs at MoMA is that we get to experience things with our program participants that other visitors would like to do, but can’t. For instance, visitors who are blind and partially sighted have the opportunity to touch sculptures on display in the galleries and in the Sculpture Garden. Who wouldn’t love to get their hands on an original bronze bust by Picasso or Matisse? Another bonus for Access Programs participants is that many of our programs are scheduled on Tuesdays, when the Museum is otherwise closed to the public. Ah, to be in a room with Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and not have to dodge the crowds!
This is exactly the situation when we hold our monthly Meet Me at MoMA program, an interactive gallery tour for people with dementia and their care partners. During these ninety-minute sessions, the Museum becomes theirs, and the quiet galleries are the perfect setting for MoMA’s educators to lead the individuals in the group in sharing their thoughts and interpretations of artworks from MoMA’s collection or special exhibitions. The stimulation and socialization that are fundamental to the MoMA program not only help to improve behavior and mood, but also dramatically improve quality of life. I have experienced numerous situations in which people come to MoMA in a non-communicative, anxious, or withdrawn state. For many, a transformation occurs in the galleries. Art can tap into old memories. It was in front of Marc Chagall’s I and the Village that a man with Alzheimer’s disease shared a story about the cemetery where his mother is buried, information that his wife had never been aware of. Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie led another man to talk about his days as a single man enjoying the nightclubs in New York in the 1940s—just like Mondrian himself. Other comments reveal how the art stimulates the participants in the here and now. For example, a woman with dementia spoke insightfully about how the colors and light in Claude Monet’s Water Lilies were inviting and joyful to her. After leading many art programs with people with dementia, I have seen firsthand that satisfying emotional and intellectual experiences are possible on both sides of the care partnership.
We wanted to share these meaningful experiences and results with a broader audience, so Museum educators worked with Graphic Design and Digital Media staff to develop a publication and website that would reflect the experience of the Meet Me at MoMA program. These resources also provide additional information in the form of interviews with experts in the fields of art, aging, and Alzheimer’s; findings from our evidence-based research study; and guides for developing and implementing art programs in a variety of settings.
I encourage you to take a look at the site!