Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2017

The following post is by Natalie, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts:

This MAEA experience aligned at the same time with a lot of personal changes in my life that I never expected (with the passing of my grandfather, the separation of my parents, and the realization that I might not know what I want to do after I graduate this spring). But this semester has also been one of my favorites (with my family closer than ever, having met some of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and the feeling of satisfaction with all of my interactions). And some credit does go to this class for keeping me sane these last few months. Like how everything in my life is so complicated, this class has been a very rewarding and challenging force in my life. An experience that has left a strong impression on me thanks to Anne, Elaine, and the MAEA community members. 

The first session with the club members we sang songs. And boy were they sassy. They thought the songs the singing instructor choose were too old. “They were oldies when I was a kid” was even exclaimed. Sometimes they were more energetic than the young adults. And immediately after the first day they made all of us feel at ease and refreshed. On the short bus ride back to school we were talking about how our moods were completely different than that morning. The MAEA members are so welcoming and loving. How often are you given a hug and told you are loved after every interaction? With the MAEA members, it’s all the time. They even call us their kids. I look forward to going to the site every week because I knew all of the members would lift my mood and make me laugh. Even before working one-on-one with a MAEA partner, I felt comfortable with all of the members (especially after our second session when we danced together to Motown). This was very refreshing because I had been surrounded by uncordial people my age for too long. I’m very thankful that I found smiles and consideration every time I went to the site. Even though they had their own worries and obstacles, they never failed to enjoy themselves while we were there. 

At the same time with all of these emotions, I was confronted with challenges that made me reconsider my approach to making (art and relationships). Before taking this class, I considered myself a go with the flow kind of person. But what I didn’t see was the excessive planning behind all that composure. With every session I always prepared for at least 5 different projects and ideas but when I started working with any of the MAEA members nothing I had anticipated happened. One time I brought in a sketchbook, canvas, watercolor crayons, printmaking materials and more. Can you guess what me and my MAEA partner did? None of that. But because I threw away all of my plans we had fun learning a material that neither of us had used. I don’t need to make my MAEA partner feel my stress, or anyone for that matter. Every session with my MAEA partner or any of the members were unique interactions and experiences that I could never have anticipated but value greatly. In some cases, people need more structure. In my case, I needed a dose of calmness. I needed to feel like not everything depended on me. You might be wondering why I say this was a calming experience when I just said my challenge was being calm? It’s complicated. Nothing was consistent about my sessions, so I had to be very flexible, so that we could have fun. But letting go of the structure I made for myself was calming.

 I know this wasn’t exactly a humorous anecdote. Perhaps this was a bit too serious at times. It’s just that when my life has been at its most chaotic, I learned a lot about myself and felt loved by very kind strangers. And that was the only thing I could imagine reflecting genuinely on for this blog post.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2017

The following post is by Beth, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts:

I’ve always been more of a solitary maker. I like to sit in a room by myself, plug in a podcast, and draw/collage/sketch/whatever. But other times I sit down, and I just don’t know what to do. No guiding direction jumps out at me. Or I get bored, only working off the same ideas that have been circulating endlessly in my own head.

The MAEA collaboration cracks open the door and lets some fresh air in. We started with painting, then cut the paintings into shapes, then collaged the shapes together. All of which developed into an abstract, dimensional, colorful composition. This whole process isn’t something I would have arrived at on my own. It was through sharing materials and ideas along the way that the project evolved the way it did. We all worked individually on a small painting in acrylic, watercolor, or alcohol ink. Then later, we pooled our pieces together to cut and collage, pulling from everyone’s painted pieces.

There are some artists out there who like the glory of bringing a unique, singular, genius idea into the world through their work. But that’s not really my style. Rather, I’ve discovered that I prefer the surprise of working with others to create something unique and singular that couldn’t have existed if I had just been working alone.

This class has been a reminder to play, and not take myself or my work so seriously all the time. It can be satisfying to plan a project out and see it through start to finish. But it’s important to let things happen naturally sometimes. A lot of times, the unexpected stuff can lead to the greatest discoveries. In addition, don’t be afraid to take scissors to something – by breaking apart a painting that’s beautiful in and of itself, you can build it into something even greater. And look to the world, the people around you. There is talent and knowledge in your surroundings if you just reach out to tap into it.

The images below are some in-process paintings, cut into strips and layered. The material used is alcohol ink – colored inks that blend, flow, and bleed into one another. Even with all my years in art school, these were new materials for me, and the experimenting gave me a chance to try new things.


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2017

The following post is by Gus, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts: 

General Enthusiasm

I’ve always labeled myself as generally enthusiastic about life – I love mornings, I love evenings, I love people, and I love my alone time. I’ve thought about myself this way for years now, and have always been astounded by how few people share my enthusiasm.

Even on my most ecstatic day, I pale in comparison to my MAEA community partner. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who is as optimistic, charismatic, and easy-going as she is. My community partner is in her early sixties – one of the youngest people in the group to have dementia – but she doesn’t let that bring her down. “I’ve had a good life so far,” she’s said, “and I’m not gunna stop now!” She loves coffee (though neither of us should be allowed to drink more than a cup), and going fast in her car.

Seriously. I remember feeling shy when she asked me what the fastest I’d ever gone was. I replied, skittishly, “Once I got up to ninety-five.” She laughed at that, and proudly confided that, when she still had her license, she’d been past 120 on more than one occasion.

One. Hundred. Twenty.

Sweet Lord.

Honestly, I’m not sure who is benefiting more from the time we get to spend together. The thing I do know, however, is that my life is happier, funnier, and more peaceful with her in it. In fact, much to the woe of my housemates and family members, I think she’s taught me to be even more optimistic about life.


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2017

The following post is by Robert, a current student in our MAEA class:


The two photos are photos taken by myself and my MAEA partner respectively on one of our photoshoots relating to our theme of machinery and parts in a whole.

In anything repetition can lead to lack of enthusiasm, and as a photographer my initial enthusiasm had been suppressed by taking tens of thousands of photos. In working with my MAEA partner that enthusiasm has seeped back into my work. In sharing my experience and knowledge and in seeing it applied to creative work in the next instant uncovers the initial inspiration I felt when I first picked up a camera. The typical issues found in collaboration are not present here. It is impossible to be unenthusiastic or noncommittal when your community partner not only is never of such an attitude but reminds you of the enthusiasm you once felt for photography before years of taking pictures made you forget it. The joy of creation never leaves your work but the joy in creation can. To work with someone who is not of the same mindset as your typical collaborators, who tend to be your peers, is motivating and inspirational. It is valuable to see a creative process influenced by years beyond what I have lived, yet still new as it is built in part by my teaching. In this sense, it is a collaboration in more than just art but also in learning. The dual images capture how we look at the world differently and when working together can play off of each other’s experience to create mutually beneficial work that conveys more than each could individually.


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2017

The following post is written by Shelby, a current student in MAEA:

To be honest, I didn’t really expect MAEA to lead to a philosophical analysis of my own thinking. I’m learning so much about my creative process and why I form attachments to the things I do.

My MAEA community partner and I hit it off very quickly; despite our 60 year age difference we had a lot of things in common and talked very easily. We’re both only children, had multiple golden retrievers, and hailed from middle America. She was involved in the feminist movement, and I was reading about the feminist movement. My dad works as a carpenter, and her son works as a carpenter. We both liked to bend the rules, discussing controversial topics and going for walks instead of exclusively working on the project. But above all, we discovered a mutual enjoyment of analyzing root causes and understanding why people act the way they do.

When it came time to come up with a project, we weren’t really interested in producing anything; we just wanted to keep talking. We agreed that the days where we weren’t forced to complete something were the best days. So we started to look introspectively.

Why do we get along so well?

 It seemed easy, we have a lot in common, but that led to a second question: What about those commonalities did we attach to? What do these outside influences do to shape us as a person?

We began delving into deep philosophical discussion, and decided that our project would be proctoring a discussion on attachments with the other members of this program. Keeping a casual, and not-forced tone of course.

We’re still in the planning project, but I feel like I’m learning so much from her along the way. It’s like she’s giving me the tools to think about how I behave, and what influences me to do the things I do. Our conversations are applicable to my intellectual history class, and I’m excited to tell her about the new things I read.

I’m glad our project is fostering similar introspection with the rest of the participants. Although we are still in the planning process, I’ve gained a better understanding of myself in this short time- I can only hope we do the same for the group.

Unexpected Intellectualism

Shelby Meyer

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2017

The following is a post written by Morgan, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts:

Attending The University of Michigan, It’s easy to get caught up into a routine. Personally the rigors of school schedules, Field Hockey practice, academics, socialization, and hopefully some sleep, become regimented and routine. Occasionally something stands out that breaks the norm and become memorable. These handful of events will end up defining the overall college experience vs. the routine, that will eventually dissolve into so much background noise. The time that I have spent each week with my MAEA community member is one of the special events that I’ll take with me when I leave Ann Arbor.

Having a conversation with my MAEA member is often like uncovering a complex life puzzle. Each week I dig deeper into this life and all of the people it has touched. The more I question, the more admiration I have for him and the better I get to know him the closer we become. My member very simply has had an amazing life. He was a doctor, has traveled the world saving starving children, is an accomplished musician, and raised a very happy family with 2 children, 6 grandchildren and his beloved wife whom I had the privilege to meet. He also invited me to dinner at his home where he and his wife took me through their lives showing me many photos and recalling the events that made up their life together. I was moved by how open and welcoming they were with me.

But with any long life there are challenges. My member has been diagnosed with a type of dementia known as PCA that effects his sight and motor skills in addition to memory. Every week presents a different struggle, but this doesn’t seem to diminish his positive attitude. Our 2-hours together flies by. Sometimes we talk about current events as seen through his perspective, sometimes he’ll recount his favorite memories, or his favorite subject of all, “his pretty little wife.”

One of the special aspects of my member is the humor he applies to his illness. He jokingly recounted that one day while at the gym he forgot how to put on his pants in the locker room and was forced to walk to his car in his underwear. He filled the room with laughter as he told the story. His ability to find humor in moments that would make others feel bitter or self-pitying is amazing.

My conversations with my MAEA member far surpass anything I could have learned in a classroom. There isn’t a “right way” to live life. People make their own choices on how to conduct themselves and how they face adversity. He chose a life of happiness, love and positivity. Included in his long list of impressive accomplishments, his passions, his service to our country and his family, is a contagious smile and overwhelming compassion for his fellow human beings.


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2017

The following is a post written by Ashley, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

We were mixing up different paint colors at our table when the song changed on the stereo and I heard a gasp from my MAEA community partner. I turned to find her dancing to the rhythm of the song with a paint brush swinging from side to side in her hand. I couldn’t help but smile and start to dance along too. When she dipped her brush in the paint and pressed it to our blank canvas her rhythm never stopped. The dancing was transformed move by move, stroke by stroke into a painting. And as the dancing was translated into painting, nothing else seemed to matter. Not the paint on the undersides of our shoes or staining the edges of our sleeves. Not the mess we would have to clean up later. Not even the coldness or starkness of the day outside. The music seemed to guide her from one stroke to the next, from one color to another. And when the song switched again it was like a new set of hands were guiding her through the painting than before. A faster song with quick jabs of the brush. A smoother song with longer lazy strokes stretching across the canvas. By the end of the session what existed on the canvas was pure chaos. Colors and textures overlapping one another smattered across the white background. Yet you could feel the energy of each marking and the joy that went into the piece. You could see the music and the dancing in the layers and the colors. And you could clearly see the beauty in the chaos of it. When our session came to a close, not only my MAEA partner, but both of us were clearly tired. The dance painting had taken all of our energy and turned it into something beautiful. But through the tiredness I could also feel a sense of lightness. A happiness that my day had begun with a woman who could take song and turn it into art.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2017

Hello and welcome to another series of blog posts written by students in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts! This is a special opportunity for students to share their insights, stories and reelections on their semester experience with all of you. For me, it is a chance to build awareness and understanding of the power of art to positively impact people in so many ways. Thanks for reading!

Anne Mondro, Associate Professor, Stamps School of Art & Design, Lead Instructor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

Thank you to all those that made another semester of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts possible!  For our last post of the semester, Kyle reflects on what he has learned.  ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

This semester in the Memory Aging & Expressive arts class, I learned so many things about memory impairment and connection by working with the members of Coffeehouse. I had a great club member who was extremely open to trying new artistic projects and practices, and at the beginning of the course stated that she wanted to try what I do in school everyday. We dyed fabric, silkscreened some prints, drew and painted. I also wanted to do some of the things that she loves to do, like baking. It was very enjoyable baking with her, and our apple pies turned out amazing. Yet the best aspect about the projects that we did was the way it allowed for conversation to happen, and I think that we both got to know a lot about each other in the short time that we met each week. I think that we both bonded with each other extremely quickly, because we both have experiences with memory loss: I with my experiences with my Grandma with Alzheimer’s and my club member living with the same disease. This similarity really allowed for us to gain an understanding of each other’s perspectives, and the different viewpoints we each had on memory. I came into this class hoping to gain more insight into what my Grandma is going through, and the different ways that we can approach this disease. Gaining this from the course and my Coffeehouse partner was an extremely rewarding and gratifying thing.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

The following post is written by Anissa, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Anissa reflects on her shared art experience and the lessons she has learned from collaborating with a UM Coffee House Club member.  ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory Aging & Expressive Arts 

The Florentine street map painting proved to be a success! The ideation of this piece was inspired by a conversation my Coffee House club member and I had about our mutual wonderment of Florence, Italy – the art, the city, the people… We began with a taped outline of the street map of the city, painting the little squares of open canvas in brilliant, rich colors and layering the paint on thick to make for a nice contrast with the starkness of the white streets. At first we painted on separate sides, later turning the canvas to work on each other’s, and finally painting the whole area of the canvas simultaneously. After making the final touches to our painting, we peeled off the tape that lined the streets to reveal a truly captivating work of art. Where the tape previously was hiding under the paint was now a stark, bright white of the canvas to contrast with the marbled yellows, reds, and oranges of the land and teals, blues, and purples of the river. After much examination of the painting – relating the tiny shapes of painted marvels to masterpieces framed in a gallery, to bright jewels and treasures, and to different dimensionalities – my Coffee House club member came up with the perfect title for the piece, Kaleidoscope.

Not having touched a paintbrush since a freshman year foundations course, my Coffee House club member taught me a thing or two about painting technique and color usage. When we began working on the piece, I was painting bright solids of reds and oranges. By the end of that first class period, I began experimenting with more gestural strokes of the paintbrush like I watched my club member do. When I began using this technique and we were turning the canvas around to work on the squares that the other had done, the whole piece started taking form into the cohesive, collaborative masterpiece it became!

Collaborating on a project with my Coffee House club member did away with any stigmas and nervousness I may have had about persons with dementia prior to taking this course. Everything I have learned from our readings, discussions, and presentations, as well as conversing and creating a project with him has reinforced the idea that it is better to focus on what persons with dementia can do, and our role – as outsiders to the disease – in this journey is to help make the transition as graceful and joyful as possible!