People with cognitive impairments, such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, can still experience and enjoy the arts. As a matter of fact, in the book, Creative Arts in Dementia Care, the late dance movement therapist Jill Hayes and voice therapist Sara Povey discuss how “the ‘core self’ in each person can be renewed through the arts, which enables people experiencing cognitive and physical impairments to access areas of creative vitality.” As America’s population ages, this will be a critical audience that those of us in the arts must consider. How will we meet their special needs? I offer one example.
My mom has a been a life-long, lover of the arts and instilled this passion in me and my two sisters. Despite having dementia at age 94, my sisters and I try to help her maintain that connection. Recently, my older sister Sheila, who is the executive director of Najwa Dance Corps, had the idea of providing an African dance experience for my mom and her fellow residents of the assisted living home where she resides. All the residents are experiencing varying stages of dementia.
For the class, Sheila provided fabric so that the women could wear stylish, African gele-head wraps. The women watched a video performance of the Najwa Dance Corps and were fully engaged, offering commentary during the screening. Then the residents’ chairs were arranged in a circle. Accompanied by recorded drumming, they were shown some moves they could do in their chairs. All of the residents joyfully participated in the movement and clapped their hands. Another time, the women watched a video performance of the Najwa Dance Corps and were fully engaged, offering commentary during the screening, demonstrating that appreciation for the arts can occur anywhere, anytime; for people of all ages and all abilities.
This experience reinforced for me how important it is for those of us involved with audience engagement to become even more creative and flexible in our efforts to extend access to the arts, especially to communities with limited mobility or opportunity to attend an event. Let’s continue to push the boundaries to expand access and embrace all potential audiences so that everyone can experience “creative vitality” through engagement with the arts.