Whether a holiday toast, the smell of fresh pan dulce or the Thanksgiving dish that is a staple every year, Tripp Cardiff is hoping the oil painting “Still Life with Festive Breads” helps evoke some memory of gathering around food.
The piece from the Latin American Popular Art Gallery at San Antonio Museum of Art is one that Cardiff, the museum’s docent program manager, will discuss Nov. 19 during ReCollections: Art Conversations to Stimulate the Mind.
A virtual event, the gathering is hosted in conjunction with UT Health San Antonio and the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases and is meant to provide those living with dementia and their caregivers a museum experience as well as an opportunity for social interaction.
“Really, the artwork is just a touchstone,” says Tardiff, whose own family was affected by Alzheimer’s. “It gets us started, but the program is really about having conversations with one another and about sharing memories and reminiscing.”
Sometimes, he says, that means caregivers will get the conversation going while other times it’s the individuals living with dementia who will talk about sights, sounds, smells or events that they remember from decades past. The program is loosely based on a similar offering at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and typically involves spotlights on a few artworks that share a central theme plus plenty of time for talking.
Melissa Flores, clinical counselor and community programs coordinator at the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurogenerative Diseases, says the program is exactly what they were hoping to create when they started looking for community partners back in 2018. Caregivers and those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia often experience isolation and they wanted there to be places where they could socialize while connecting with others in the community going through a similar experience.
The pandemic put the start of ReCollections on hold, but they’ve hosted several sessions already this year and plan to continue with virtual gatherings, which they’ve found are most convenient for the group they serve, and possibly quarterly in-person meetings in 2023.
“It’s important for us to create these dementia-friendly spaces where people can feel comfortable and have these social opportunities,” Flores says, adding that patients associated with UT often attend but that the event is open to anyone. “We’ve seen a lot of really wonderful connections made.”