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.
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
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.
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!
The following post is written by Julia, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts. The post reflects on what Julia has learned from this experience. ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts
My time at Coffeehouse Club has taught me that life is an unexpected journey, especially for those with memory loss. There are so many sudden twists and turns that have the ability to derail you from your current path. There is no way to be prepared for it, but there is always a way to reframe your thoughts and take it as a blessing.
University of Michigan Geriatrics Coffeehouse Club has the beautiful ability to make time stop. The first time I noticed it was right after I got paired with my Coffeehouse club member and we were working on our first project together. We were halfway through painting an abstract piece when I realized that not once that morning had I thought about all of the assignments I needed to complete that week, my imminent graduation, or my concern for getting a job soon. As a senior preparing to graduate from college, I had so many things running through my mind every day, but for an hour and a half every week, everything slowed down. Soon it was not just Thursday mornings that reminded me to breathe, but every day began to grow like that.
While listening to some music from her teenage years, my Coffeehouse partner came to life. She was tapping her hands and humming along with a somber smile. I asked if the music had made her upset because she cannot relive that part of her life. She looked at me and replied, “It is happiness, that I am living with all that past behind me.” My Coffeehouse partner taught me that every moment is precious. If you blink your eyes or look away just for a second, that moment could be gone. My Coffeehouse partner reminded me to quit worrying about the future, to experience the now, and that the future will come no matter what you do. She reminded me to live, and for all of that I thank her.
Below is an post by Megan, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015. Megan reflects on what she has learned by working with her community partner. ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.
I am a student at the School of Social Work here at U of M, in the Geriatric Scholar and interpersonal practice program. I first became interested in working with people affected by memory loss when I was a junior in undergrad. I took a course in Aging and shortly after completed an internship in a Memory Care Unit at a local retirement community facility. I took this course, Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts, to learn more about infusing art while working with the older adult population and to also learn about Mild Cognitive Impairment, which was a completely new topic for me. At the beginning of the process when us students were meeting the Coffee House Members I was so taken aback by how willing they were to share about their memory loss. At one of our very first group sessions one of the Coffee House Members said “We are free to forget here”. It really showed me how close the group is and I felt very privileged being allowed to listen to their stories and to be let into their worlds.
The Coffee House Club Member that I work with used to work as a home health aide with older adults, some of which had memory loss. Together her and I are complying a story of vignettes from her life experiences. Lately, my club partner and I have been reflecting on the idea that she has worked with older adults and that working with older adults is the career path I intend on entering. From this discussion, my Coffee House Club Member has been giving me work advice. I would like to share some of my Coffee House Club Member’s advice for working with older adults here: Be kind. Be pleasant. Treat them as if it is you in their situation. Keep a good attitude. Make a joke. Find out what they like. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Think of ways to make it simpler for her. Go with the flow. Be ready to be their friend.
~ Megan, School of Social Work Graduate Student, U of M
The following post is written by Jessica, a current study in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts. Jessica and her Coffeehouse club member performed a lovely piano duet today at our end of the semester celebration. It was a fantastic event! Thank you to the faculty, staff, club members and students to make this course possible. ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts
I am an Art & Design student at the University of Michigan. I mainly like to draw and paint, so when I signed up for this class I couldn’t have expected to end up meeting a Coffee House member who would rekindle my love for music and make me realize the amazing healing power music can have. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school I had taken piano lessons, but since coming to college I’ve only touched a piano to show off with a few measures of the only piece I can still remember how to play. Before this class, I had lost touch with how fun and rewarding it is to sit down at a piano and learn a piece, or even to listen to classical music.
During one session, we listened to playlists made specifically for the members. It really struck me when my community partner listened to his playlist and instantly entered what seemed to be such a happy state. We couldn’t think of the names of many of the pieces in the playlist, but my partner could hum them perfectly. The gaps between our generations seemed to close when we connected over our favorite composers. Music really seems to turn off any worries or frustrations, and throughout this class I think it has allowed us both to “zone out” and enjoy the creativity that goes into making beautiful music. I look forward to being able to share a musical performance together.