Pilot … volunteer Mark Francis, standing, with his charges.
ART can create conversations and trigger memories. Now an Art Gallery of NSW pilot program suggesting art improves the quality of life for people with the early onset of dementia has sparked wider interest for an ageing population.
Over six months this year, 20 elderly residents and their carers gathered at Holdsworth Community Centre to be shown colour reproductions from the John Kaldor Family Collection.They were then brought to the gallery to see the original artworks.
After repeated visits, quiet and initially reticent elderly people began confidently conversing on art. In one coincidence, an elderly person with early dementia recalled he had worked with Kaldor decades ago when the Sydney art benefactor ran his successful textiles empire.
While it is difficult to prove art delays the progress of dementia, it ''definitely improves the quality and experience of life'', says the gallery's access programs co-ordinator Danielle Gullotta. ''After two or three sessions they began interacting freely within their groups.
''It raises the question: how do we value art in our society? Do we just fund art appreciation for the very young, or do we invest money in the later years and give older people new experiences and new ideas?''
Gullotta says the gallery wants to partner with Alzheimer's NSW next year to expand the Art and Dementia Program across the state. But funds are short at the gallery. Its budget was cut by $1.9 million more than three years ago by the state government.
''It needs some wonderful person to step up and show some leadership and put some dollars into it,'' Gullotta says.
The program was fashioned after an initiative of New York's Museum of Modern Art. An Audience Focus survey last year of 33 US museums that offer programs for people with dementia found it had elevated the moods of participants and improved their relationships with their carers.