“The final pieces of art are so beautiful and striking. It’s stunning. You would never know these pieces were made by someone experiencing memory loss and that’s the beauty of it all,” Dottie Santagata, administrator of Cornerstone Adult Services on Warwick Neck Avenue said recently.
Cornerstone Adult Services is on their second installation of Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program, a 10-week program that pairs memory loss patients one-on-one with occupational therapy students to work on abstract art pieces. Cornerstone is the only facilitator of the national program in the Northeast.
Santagata explained that even as one’s memory fades, the desire and drive to express ourselves and to be creative remains.
OMA offers participants “failure free” art activities with manageable steps and support from an occupational therapy student. Studies also find that when individuals with memory loss participate in artful self-expression it improves their physical and psychological well-being.
“We gear our programs to focus on the participants’ abilities not disabilities. We emphasize what they can still do, what brings meaning and engagement into their lives,” Santagata said.
Cornerstone began with two sessions in January partnering with New England Institute of Technology’s occupational therapy department. The sessions were so successful they continued with the program. The art created in these sessions is displayed throughout Cornerstone’s facility. Cornerstone is planning an art gallery sometime in June with competition of the second session. In many cases caregivers and family members can’t believe their loved ones created the art and often get emotional seeing them. The art is becoming so popular family members are asking to purchase prints of the work.
At the end of each session, Cornerstone participants get the opportunity to title and share their art with the rest of the program.
Santagata said, “Our participants are so energized and when they get to show off their work they are just beaming. It’s just amazing people who never thought they were creative leave considering themselves artists. They receive so much joy and validation from this program.”
In an artist quote provided by Santagata, one of the OMA artists said, “I never thought of myself as an artist before starting this. I like all the different materials we use in the art. I never know how it will come together in the end. It’s amazing how different everyone’s art turns out.”
Another said, “I wish I could have done more with art. I discovered that I really enjoy art, and I never had the chance to do art before. I find that all I am really interested in right now is art.”
Patients aren’t the only ones benefiting from OMA, the NETECH students get two days of working with patients with memory loss previous to the program and get real world experience throughout the 10-week program.
Doug Fallow, who participated in the program’s last session, said OMA was an “eye opening experience” for him. He was better able to understand how memory loss can affect someone’s entire life. He was able to take what he was learning in the classroom and “put it to work in the real world.”
“When you ask people what they like to do they may not remember or it may not translate to their current abilities,” Fallow said. “This is universal, everyone can participate and be creative. It’s important to build on these experiences.”
Both Fallow and Satagata said that students and participants form a strong bond over the 10 weeks they work together.
“It’s a win-win all around,” Satagata said. “Everyone has been so enthusiastic. This program has really surpassed all of our expectation on so many fronts. We see it in the expressions of our patients faces.”
ONE-ON-ONE PARTNERSHIPS: Cornerstone Adult Services participants are paired with an occupational therapy student from New England Institute of Technology once a week to work on step-by-step abstract art projects. (Warwick Beacon photos)
STRIKING: Administrator of Cornerstone, Dottie Santagata, said that the final art pieces are becoming so popular that families are asking for prints of the pieces. Cornerstone intends to open an art gallery with all the work later this summer.
BEAMING FACES: At the end of each session, all of the Cornerstone participants have the opportunity to share their piece of art. Santagata said the patients are beaming and take a lot of pride in their work.