Sunday afternoon’s SPARK! program for individuals with memory loss and their care partners at the Woodson Art Museum, September 21, 1-2:30 pm, fittingly follows Saturday’s nationwide walk to raise awareness for Alzheimer's care, support, and research. I continually witness sensory-rich, interactive SPARK! programs at the Woodson break through and ease the isolation and depression that those with dementia often experience. SPARK! participants gather to view artwork and engage in related multisensory activities that incorporate movement, music, scent, and tactile objects. During a recent visit, one participant rose from his wheelchair to dance with me, displaying deft footwork! Subsequent group discussions and hands-on art making often evoke reminiscing, laughter, and feelings of belonging.
An idea cast forth into the world can cause ripples that continue to touch many lives. My life was changed in 2009 when Helen Ramon, program officer at the Helen Bader Foundation, initiated a call to Wisconsin museums to develop programs for older adults. For me, a Woodson Art Museum educator, that "challenge" led to the opportunity to learn about an innovative program for those with dementia and their care partners called “Meet Me at MoMA” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Ideas, methods, and best practices based on MoMA’s program subsequently were implemented at eleven Wisconsin museums. These museums formed an alliance and named their respective programs "SPARK!". Each museum tailored the program to fit the needs of its visitors and its specific environment.