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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Racine Art Museum Ignites a ‘SPARK’ of Creativity

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For people dealing with Alzheimer's disease, venturing outside of the home can be a challenge. Tricia Blasko, curator of education at the Racine Art Museum (RAM), hopes to ease some of those challenges by spearheading a new program for people with memory loss and their caregivers. SPARK, as the pilot program is called, offers a variety of free art experiences for those affected by Alzheimer's. SPARK is modeled after a successful program of similar scope at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

What types of activities are included in the SPARK program?

We basically do two programs in two locations. At RAM's Wustum Museum we are creating hands-on art—really nice, inspiring artwork using different techniques. We've done ceramics and clay, watercolors, and fabric weaving, which was an interesting challenge but actually turned out really well. At RAM we are focusing more on conversations about the art in the galleries. We are also working with our public library and local poets to do poetry readings, and bringing in Danceworks from Milwaukee to do some art exercises and movement in the gallery.

Is the program limited to people with Alzheimer's that live at home with a caregiver, or are other senior groups included too?

The intent of the program and the grant from the Helen Bader Foundation is specifically for people who still live at home, with early- to mid-stage memory loss, to come in with their caregiver. But throughout our current pilot phase, we've been working with some residential homes and day-care facilities. So there is a mix of participants. We aren't going to turn anyone away if they are interested.

How well do you think the program has been received so far?

It has been great. The staff has had so much fun with the participants. We have people coming in that don't have any art in their background, but they really seem to enjoy the experience—whether they are creating their own art or having a conversation about art. When we have our hands-on programs at Wustum we are all laughing the whole time. It is really positive and rejuvenating.

What do you see as the most important part of the SPARK initiative?

I think it's important to give people the opportunity to have an enriching, creative experience together that they can talk about later—to get these people out into the community, so they aren't sitting at home or in a day-care center all day long. The participants like just being treated like normal adults. I think the whole experience is really important for both the caregiver and the care-receiver.

What is your favorite part about your work with SPARK?

Hearing people laugh and seeing the pure happiness in their faces. They may not always remember us, but they remember that they were here, and they remember that they had a positive experience. I love spreading the joy of creative aging. It is just a great program.

For more information about the SPARK program, contact Tricia Blasko at (262) 636-9573.

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