AFA & True Care: Artist in Residency Workshop with Jodie Berman

November 13, 2019

Last month we announced True Care’s cooperation with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America as part of their Artist in Residency Program generously supported by a grant from the Louis & June Kay Foundation. True Bridge -True Care’s memory care program dedicated to empower, encourage, and engage individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other cognitive impairments- sponsored a four-week workshop under the instruction of Jodie Berman CTRS, True Care's Director of Programs and Engagement.

The project guided each participant and their respective caregivers through the process of “Reflection and Reminiscence” in addition to the therapeutic use of art, inspired to create "Portraits of M.E. (Memories and Emotions)." Each artist created artwork which was placed in a wooden four-pane window frame.  This frame represented a self-portrait as they view in and out of "the window of their lives." It is through our past and present experiences, cherished memories, and embodied emotions which they expressed through the use of mixed media. 

In week one, participants were first instructed to write down one special memory from their childhood and an emotion that reflects how that memory makes them feel today. Then, just as a reference, participants were given a visual template and handout with a list of colors, and the instructor explained how people in the advertising and marketing industries use colors when they create signs and logos for businesses.

"They identify certain emotions with certain colors. For example, yellow, you mentioned, makes you happy. They also associated yellow with happiness, friendly, and morning. The color blue [represents] serene, calm, inviting, and trustworthy. Green [is associated with] natural, stable, prosperous."

With that in mind, each participant was instructed to cover a 16"x20" sheet of paper with a “watercolor wash.” This wash would serve as the background of their art piece. The colors they chose for their background wash were inspired by the memories and emotions they wrote down earlier. They were each given a large, 2-inch brush and asked to prepare their sheets of paper by “washing” them with only water, working in small sections first and slowly increasing their range of motion to cover the entire paper, with their choice of colors. This would serve as the foundation for their window memory.

For week two, each participant was asked to bring in a 3-dimensional object or photograph that brings them joy. Participants volunteered to share their stories about the object they brought in that day. Some brought photos, mementos of their loved ones, and others brought in gifts of sentimental value. 

Each artist worked diligently through week three using these mementos to inspire how they currently feel and see themselves today, as they added a variety of elements from their lives to their windows. This included mixed media using watercolor paints, tissue paper collage, and the written word expressed through poetry and storytelling. It was a joy to see all the different thought processes as they each personalized their work.

The grand finale happened on week four as the class added the final touches to their art pieces for the AFA Art Show, where they would display and talk about their pieces to guests and attendees. One artist, Genie, spoke about her experience with participating in the workshop.

“So this was really difficult for me. It was a hard project. Because I take care of my mom right now, and I was kind of angsty. And the experience I went through, it renewed me. I got this energy, and I feel like I conquered this task. I said, ‘but I can't do a panel. I can't do a window like everybody else. I gotta be different.’ And it ended up that each panel became decades. From zero and it took shape, and it became my whole life. I struggled each time to master it, and I did. It was good, but it was painful and energizing. And look what came out the other end. I feel pretty good.”

Jodie had this to say about her experience as an instructor over the 4-week workshop:

"This was one of the most powerful and memorable for me in my career. The participants, their family, and caregivers put their all into this project, and took this conceptual and creative opportunity to a level that broke stigmas, changed perceptions, and empowered creativity and expression. All of us have a rich life story full of experiences, both positive and negative, that stay with us long into our lives. In these workshops, there was no dementia present, just a group of wonderful human beings who chose to engage and share their personal stories with others and reflect their memories and emotions into a work of art filled with meaning, creativity, and hope. 

"This picture is what it is all about!"

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