Opening Minds Through Art Goes Virtual

October 2020

Opening Minds through Art (OMA) is an award-winning, evidence-based art program for people living with neurocognitive disorders, with the goal of helping to create a society that values older adults living with dementia.  It’s a unique art program where residents are free to open their minds and express themselves through abstract art.  Besides being an outlet for creative expression, OMA is also an opportunity for social engagement and builds genuine friendships between OMA volunteers and residents.

Once the pandemic started and senior living communities were closed to visitors, Liz Powell, JAA’s Art Education Coordinator, knew that it was important for the program to continue, both for residents and Carlow  University  volunteers.  Our six OMA artists at JAA currently meet with two Carlow interns who are trained in the program, only now they meet online.

At first, Liz wasn’t sure if residents would be willing to make the switch to digital.  “In the beginning, it was daunting,” Liz said. “I told my artists, ‘I’m going to teach you how to use technology,’ and their total willingness to learn and try this new experience caught me by surprise. It ended up being so easy to teach them!”

Liz is currently present during the one-on-one OMA meetings between residents and Carlow volunteers, but she is mostly there to set up supplies and assist with any physical needs, as the real focus is on the friendship between the resident and student.  Some residents who have a hard time seeing or hearing have been able to easily adapt on the Skype calls with the help of a bigger screen, or with headphones.  Liz and the residents have found solutions through trial and error to make the digital switch work for each of them.

“There’s a misconception that older adults don’t want to use and learn new technologies,” said Liz. “And not just older adults, but even our memory care residents who are taking part in this program. They were all very willing to learn and made the transition extremely well.”

Each Monday, Liz holds a virtual meeting with the volunteers to discuss the goals for the week and the upcoming art projects.  OMA provides the lessons, and Liz and volunteers modify projects based on the needs, likes, and dislikes of their residents.  They’re currently working on an OMA virtual art show, which will be hosted and displayed in a gallery online, and featuring works of art from both years of the program so far.  We’ll be excited to attend and view all of the creative works of art from our JAA residents on display.

And we thank Liz for making OMA the enriching and successful program it is today!  It’s wonderful to see how people of all ages, even older adults in memory care, can be excited about learning new things and trying new experiences.