Opening Minds Through Art program at Laumeier Sculpture Park connects seniors and students

Each week, a group of eight artists come together to work on abstract artwork. They make choices of colors and shapes, try new techniques and new materials. After 10 weeks of work, they will present their pieces in an exhibition for all to see. They are not professionals, but not quite amateurs either. These eight artists form the inaugural class of Laumeier Sculpture Parkof the Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) program.

AMO is a research-based intergenerational art program for people with dementia, developed at the University of Miami. Last year, Laumeier became the first sculpture park in the country to achieve OMA certification, and in February the park’s three animators launched the program alongside a team of occupational therapy students from the University of Maryville.

Laumeier was interested in the OMA before the pandemic, but lacked the budget for travel and training. But when COVID-19 moved training online, that opportunity, along with a generous bequest from Laumeier’s longtime docent Ann Bauer for senior arts programming, provided Laumeier with a clear path forward.

“All of those things came together,” says Stacy West, Laumeier’s assistant manager. “The need to bring programs to nursing homes, the fact that the OMA is online and that we have received this foundational donation to fund our staff members who go through the training…everything is aligned so that this program is happening.”

Now, once a week, Laumeier facilitators and eight occupational therapy students travel to Delmar Gardens West in Chesterfield. Each student is specifically paired with an artist and works with them individually to establish a routine and familiarity while creating the abstract art projects.

“Artists always make choices,” says learning and engagement specialist Elsie Tuttle. “It’s always integrated and it gives them a real sense of ownership of the project… For people with dementia in nursing homes, a lot of their day is decided for them. There are very few choices in their day. This program offers respite from that.

In addition to entertainment and therapy, the program offers opportunities to connect across generations. As part of the program’s goal of bringing together more research on dementia and the arts, students reflect on their experiences after each session. After just two weeks, many were already developing meaningful relationships with the artists.

Although the initial program is limited to Delmar Gardens West, Laumeier plans to run the program onsite at the park this fall and open it to the public.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to bring more engaging arts programming to people with dementia in St. Louis who simply haven’t had it before,” says Tuttle. “I think with the ability to expand the program as we continue to practice it and get the funding, we can really open it up to a lot of people who need it.”

creative process

What is opening minds through art?

The Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program was developed by Dr. Elizabeth “Like” Lokon with the Scripps Gerontology Center at the University of Miami. The mission of the program is to “build bridges across age and cognitive barriers through art”.

The program engages students and seniors in art-making activities through the use of a 12-step process that provides routine and structure for the comfort of the person with dementia. These stages include weekly introductions and farewells, singing familiar songs together, and opportunities for creative choices and decisions. Through this process, the program facilitators hope to achieve four goals:

1. Promote the social engagement, autonomy and dignity of people living with dementia (PLWD) by providing them with opportunities for creative expression.

2. Provide opportunities for staff and volunteers to build intimate relationships with PLWD.

3. To show the public the capacities of creative expression of the PLWD through exhibitions of their work.

4. Contribute to the scientific literature on dementia care and the arts.

Kayleen C. Rice