‘So Much Joy’: Art Spark!  offers art programs for people with memory loss

By Lauren Piesko and Emily Keinath

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FLINT, Michigan (WNEM) – A new program at the Flint Institute of the Arts (FIA) sparks creative thinking while making waves in the Alzheimer’s and dementia community.

“We know now that there are more than 200,000 Michiganders living with Alzheimer’s disease right now,” said David Hind, program manager for the Alzheimer’s Association.

If you or a loved one is living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia – hello Art Spark! It is a new program launched by the FIA ​​designed for people with mild to moderate memory loss and their care partners.

TV5 stopped by the hot shop to check out this month’s demonstration of glass art.

“As an instructor, I feel like it’s very similar to many other educational experiences we offer. I think on a given afternoon, we have high schoolers and then grade schoolers, we’re usually engaging in the same way,” said Michael Mentz, FIA glass programs manager. “No one is very familiar with the material, so we’re always approaching it from a very easy and accessible entry.”

“I think a lot of times, people are most interested and, kind of, inspired by how much they didn’t know about glass as a material,” Mentz said. “A lot of times, that’s probably the biggest impact we’ve had on people.”

Idea for Art Spark! was brought to FIA by Docent and Access Coordinator Jennifer Giddings-Essenmacher. While working for the Alzheimer’s Association, she learned that there was a real need in mid-Michigan for a program that cared for those with memory loss.

“It gives me a lot of joy. “I worked for the Alzheimer’s Association and knowing that four years ago people were looking for a similar program, what they could do to get out with their loved ones and not feel judged for behavior or actions,” she said.

When asked if the art brought back any memories for anyone, Giddings-Essenmacher said absolutely.

“So we have some couples who keep coming back and signing up for more,” she said. “They want to know when the next class is, when the next workshop is. And they’re inviting people, which is fantastic.”

One of the last examples she gave was of a man who remembered returning to his workshop.

“After our mud tour, our fire guy, he brought them back to the furnace room and one of our attendees said, ‘This is amazing, this reminds me of the store,’ and just heard the noise and the heat,” Giddings-Essenmacher said. .

After the demonstration, TV5 sat down with Hind to hear his thoughts on the program.

“I really appreciate what we’re doing here. To see people, again, who I know wouldn’t otherwise come out, and I’ve experienced with the staff from the FIA ​​that it’s not just the craft of glassblowing for these two individuals, it’s their engagement with the community,” Hind said. ..

Hind said that exposure to a program like Art Spark! it is important for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“Staying engaged, staying active, staying socially connected is essential to continue their journey in a positive and safe way,” he said. “But their carers, they usually don’t do things for themselves – their focus is on their loved one. So it gives both of these individuals the opportunity to be out among others in the community, especially with people who understand.”

Not only do these staff members understand, but many of them have loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“I have a grandmother who has dementia and so, having this opportunity for her, even if she doesn’t participate, just knowing that she’s being offered something. She said she was interested in coming to our watercolor workshop, so that would be just awesome because I know it’s something she did a lot when she was younger,” Giddings-Essenmacher said.

For now, Art Spark! there are two portions. The first – gallery tours, offered on the third Thursday of each month, which involve all five senses with a heavy emphasis on sight, touch and smell. Second – art making workshops, which are offered on the last Saturday of every month. Upcoming workshops include glass fusing in April and watercolor painting in May.

“They really remember coming here. He was like, ‘When are we going to Art Spark!'” Giddings-Essenmacher said.

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