Carol Ruffin on The value of vocalises (vocal… Holly Murs on Compassionate Care for Alzheim… maryann4tao on TAO’s First Vocal Group… Mario on TAO’s First Vocal Group… Eddie Sal on TAO’s First Vocal Group…
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Elizabeth Cunningham is an art therapist who presents programs regularly for Tidewater Arts Outreach. Here, she recounts a March 2013 program at The Dwelling Place in Norfolk. Family homeless shelters are challenging places to present programs. Common areas are small, families are ‘in crisis’ by the time they end up in shelter, and children, moms and staff handle large stress-loads daily. For all of these reasons, it is difficult for TAO to allow observers to these programs. This report offers a glimpse into how our programs augment the lives of women and children in transition. Our goals of our programs in family shelters are to engage both parents and children…many parents are very young themselves, and often have not had much experience in the arts. We want to show them that quality family time can be had, for very little cost, through a variety of arts experiences.
I arrived 40 minutes early to set up… Families ate dinner and wandered in and out of the living room, curious about what was planned for the evening. After meeting the residents, I offered to write their names in calligraphy on gold paper/cards and found each person to be eager to receive one, and eager for their family members and friends to receive theirs was well. A “hum” of happiness and enthusiasm began to build in the house as residents anticipated beginning their Colorful Collage group. By 7:00, twelve residents chose to attend the Colorful Collage group; five adults and seven children. We opened by discussing how simple artwork can encourage and inspire us!
MaryAnn and Casey volunteered to tend to the younger children in order to give parents the time needed to attend the event. They had their hands full — and the children adored them. One tiny boy wanted Casey to never leave and to stay with him at the Dwelling Place!
Images surrounding poverty and homelessness are often dark and negative. But providing collage materials based in nature seemed to guide residents toward hopeful and bright images and associations. As residents worked on their collages, conversations turned peaceful and relaxed …they enjoyed the natural images they chose for their artwork, and affirmed one another’s artwork as well. Several residents spoke spontaneously of hopeful and realistic plans for the near future, and positive reflections on their own abilities as they made associations to the images they had chosen to put in their artwork.
Half-way through the event, cares of the day seems to have dissipated and there were pleasant smiles all around the room. Residents focused and worked thoughtfully and made decisions regarding what to include in their artwork, and what could be left out (as in life).
The opportunity to relax, enjoy a positive, nurturing and creative event met the emotional and psychological needs of adults and children. At the end of the evening, a quiet and more hopeful sense of peace hung in the air, no one was eager to leave, and several wanted more time to continue making collages. A few of the adult residents requested collage supplies to take back to their rooms in The Dwelling Place so they could make additional works of art. It was a special evening worth the wait.
January 24, 2013
“Music and Movement” facilitator Shellie Fraddin recounts her TAO Program
My first impression was of the building: old and depressing, with residents either in the halls or in their hospital-like rooms screaming or moaning, permeating the overheated air with the smell of bodily fluids. I’ve worked in many facilities like this before, so I wasn’t shocked. I had mixed emotions: sadness for their situation and joy that I could be here today make a difference in their lives.
My second impression occurred during the class. There were about 2-3 staff, 20 residents, mostly in wheelchairs, half asleep, fully asleep or totally disinterested in what was about to take place. I said hello to them, told them who I was and what we were going to do today. In response, some mumbled, some turned their backs to me, others were having manicures, while others just sat there.One or two smiled. I showed them some steps and arm movements before I turned on the music and asked them to do what I do. I wanted to determine whether they would be able to follow me and whether I could teach them some steps.They were pretty responsive but couldn’t follow any routine. So I discarded my routine and offered them movements that they could do.
I asked the activities assistants to find me percussion instruments for those who were either sleeping or not participating. I gave some people bells to ring or maracas to shake and it kept them involved. I felt it was important for each person in the room to feel the rhythm of the music and to move whatever they could move. I felt so much joy when I saw every single person in the room participating on some level. They either tapped a foot or a finger and applauded after each song. The energy in the room had transformed. They clapped their hands or one hand on the table and they stomped their feet or a foot in response to the music. We had a ball. We chair danced to songs from all over the world: Zorba The Greek, a Belly Dance, a Cha Cha, a Salsa, a Cumbia, a Merengue, a Waltz, a Mexican Hat Dance, The Hora, the Hokey Pokey and even did The Twist in a chair.We were hootin’ and howlin’, giving everyone permission to make noise and release tension and frustration.
The highlight of the program came at the end, when an elderly gentlemen from France, who spoke very little English told me, “I haven’t felt so alive ever in my entire life. I never danced before today. Thank you and God Bless you. I will never forget you.” He took my hands and kissed me on both cheeks. I wanted to cry I was so moved. It’s in moments like these, that I realize the impact music and dance have on the lives of all people, especially those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The Chaplain participated as well and said she’s never seen so many happy, smiling faces in this group as she did during this one hour. When the activities director came in and asked them if they had a good time, in unison they yelled, YES. “Do you want her back for more?” They all resounded a loud YES.
Thank you for the opportunity to bring aliveness and joy back into people’s lives, people who would never have the opportunity to dance without your programs. I am so blessed to be part of your vision and look forward to our next adventure together.
TAO has the joy of combining the talents of a diverse community of artists in its delivery of outreach programs in the community. Some folks dabble in the arts and others devote their lives to their craft. Art is not a hobby for them; they have decided that following their artistic dreams and passions are important enough to sacrifice the security and stability of ‘a day job.’ Some of them are rewarded handsomely for their artistic output and others less so. I respect them all for their passion, tenacity and courage.
So there’s that appreciation, and then there’s this: When Tidewater Arts Outreach began, the local arts commissions told us they wanted to see artist compensation in our business model. We were glad to steer TAO in that direction. And so, in September 2005, when our annual operating budget was $18,000, we started giving artists stipends for their TAO programs. And we have never looked back.
Our FY13 budget is still meager, but it’s ten times what it was then. In September ’12, we announced we were doubling artist stipends – so now, one artist is paid $60, two artists are paid $90, and three or more receive $120 for their services. It is below the going rate, but it helps significantly for those professionals who choose to devote their time and talent to creating and presenting programs for our clients. And those programs are, quite often, extra-ordinary. Art therapists and graduate art therapy students help children on dialysis at CHKD create art. We engage a drum circle facilitator who has made this his life’s work. A music teacher is engaged through us to help seniors form a singing group at a long-term care facility. Without stipends for these and many other contributors each month, these programs would not exist.
For those artists who don’t need the extra money, or who would rather see these funds go to supporting more TAO programs, we make it easy to reverse some or all of the stipend back to TAO, which we treat as a donation. Or they may choose to collect the income and donate it to another charity. The key element here, I think, is that TAO values its artists by compensating them for their very special services, often a culmination of talents and skills that have been developed over years and years. And our stipend increase comes with the expectation that artists will continue to develop and tailor their programs specifically for TAO clients. To that end, there’s a wealth of material and resources on our website about various special needs populations and how to create effective programming for them. We also help artists on an individual basis, brainstorming and providing guidance so they are able to offer program participants the most effective arts experiences they can.
TAO was started by artists. The medical community is coming around to show their support, and so is the business community, but we need the continued support of the arts community, who has always been so generous to entertain, engage and inspire through a wealth of programs. We’re working to do the right thing for all the artists involved. Our board is focused on getting the resources needed to sustain the momentum of increased financial support. We at TAO have tremendous thanks and appreciation to all the very special and talented artists who, through the years, have contributed considerable talents, enthusiasm, time and energy to fulfilling our mission. Next: why advocacy for the arts is so important.
Half the people in nursing homes suffer from Alzheimers’ disease or related dementia. I the hate this statistic, as much as I hate that dreadful disease. It means that far too many talented people will be robbed, little by little, of their intellect, their memories, their physical abilities and even their vital functions, as the brain is reduced to … nothing. Think of the loved ones and the caregivers who must bear witness to this sad demise, who must cajole and coax, put up with tears, fits, hysteria and decline. Through our programs each month, we bear witness to their challenges and we are here for them, too.
If there is any bright side at all, to me it is that research shows that personal creativity remains after other skills have gone, and involving dementia sufferers in creative pursuits can improve mood, functioning and other skills. As long as people are happy being creative, why not, in this condition, let them create? Sing, dance, paint and play. Enjoy nature, gentle stretching, beautiful music, colorful rooms and gorgeous art. Unfortunately, there often are not nearly enough stimulating, creative experiences in the lives of dementia sufferers.
Tidewater Arts Outreach sends dozens of artists to many locations where they interact with people who live with the confusion and isolation that is Alzheimers’, and the caregivers who do such tremendous work, but who face burnout and discouragement because of the difficult nature of their work. This repost from Scott Kirschenbaum’s March 28, 2012 Huffington Post story is a good read for our artists and hosts who go to share their compassion and creativity with strangers who need our help, our love and most of all, the joyous colors, sounds, movement and poetry that our arts experiences convey. I hope you enjoy Scott’s story, “You’re looking at me like I live here and I don’t: Making a film in the Alzheimer’s Unit.”
Tidewater Arts Outreach shares the joy and healing power of the arts with many people, from all walks of life. A common denominator of those we serve is that they are living with special needs that set them apart, or isolates them, from society and the relationship and access to culture and community that so many of us take for granted. We serve homeless families, teens transitioning through the VB court system for placement purposes, adults with intellectual, physical and emotional disabilities, and lots of frail, infirm seniors who are in dependent care day and residential programs. We also serve victims of domestic violence, through programs that are specifically tailored to meet their needs, designed by artists who are uniquely qualified to effectively engage with this group.
Life In Transit was designed by artist, educator and author Donna Iona Drozda. Life In Transit (LiT) is a series that involves three different groups at three local domestic violence programs. LiT offers workshop participants the opportunity to use journaling and visual arts techniques to express their emotions, dreams and visions for healing.
Another aspect of Life in Transit is the display the resulting artwork in public spaces, including public transportation. The artwork and poetry on display will poignantly share powerful messages of healing, struggle, personal change, pain and more, while protecting the identify of the artists.
Tidewater Arts Outreach has been able to provide some limited funding to this project so far; TAO is working to secure full project funding for this transformational series. Follow the link above to Donna Drozda’s LiT page.