Once each week, the Studio de Monet is filled with the sounds of singing and community volunteers working side by side with Montereau residents painting abstract artwork. Each piece looks very different; some artists paint lines, which take the shape of waves, while others paint circles, leaving the canvas looking like bubbles floating in the air. Each artist has the freedom to paint however and with whatever colors they choose. It’s part of the beauty of the Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) program, an art activity designed for Montereau residents who have dementia.
OMA is a 10-week, person-centered program that enables participants to express themselves creatively through a weekly, multi-media art project. Each of the 12 residents who participate in OMA is paired with a volunteer from the community. Some volunteers are in high school or college while others are retired, looking for a way to give back. Each week the relationship between residents and their assigned volunteer grows as they talk about much more than art.
Every OMA session opens with the singing of “You Are My Sunshine”. Most sing the song from memory and don’t even need to look at the words on the song sheet provided for them. As the singing ends, the creative magic begins.
One of the main objectives of the OMA program is to focus on what residents still can do and not on what their physical or cognitive limitations might be. Consequently, the resident artists make their own decisions about colors and painting techniques, and they do most of the artwork themselves; volunteers are merely there to guide them along the way.
“It’s a program that proves our residents are still capable of so many things,” said Kim Calabrese, Therapeutic Recreation Assistant and OMA program coordinator.
This week’s project is crinkled foil painting. After the artists fill their canvases with color using water, colored dye, and paint brushes, each is given foil to crinkle up. Some artists aren’t sure what to do with the foil, so their volunteers briefly show them and then hand the foil back over to them to do the rest. After it’s crinkled, the residents use a roller dipped in a paint color of their choice and run it across the foil. Then the foil is pressed down on the canvas and some of the paint transfers from the foil to the canvas.
The final touch is adding glitter to the artwork, and each artist chooses which color they’d like. After naming their artwork, the session ends with one more song, “This Little Light of Mine”. As the song ends, the volunteers take their residents back to The Abbey in greater spirits.
This is the first 10-week OMA session to be hosted at Montereau, and it’s proving to be a huge success. It’s about so much more than the final piece of art. Residents are building new relationships and using art to express themselves when their memories fail them.
“Watching the artists and volunteers interact, hearing their conversations, and seeing the light in our residents’ eyes when they take a look at their final art piece is amazing,” said Kristen Schooley, Wellness Director. “We are seeing more success from this OMA program than we even imagined!”
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