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Weekly Blog 15: Artists and the Bluecoat Building

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Jill Pendleton, Dementia Lead at Merseycare, visits Where the Arts Belong showcase

Reflecting on the art of the possible 

Earlier this year, we hosted a showcase event at the Belong Village in Crewe, as part of our project Where the Arts Belong which brings arts experiences to people living with dementia. Read our latest blog as Jill Pendleton, the Dementia Lead for Merseycare, reflects on the event and the project so far. 

I was looking forward to attending the showcase event, displaying the work of six artists’ residencies in the Belong village and I wasn’t disappointed. Against a backdrop of a condition like dementia, traditionally epitomised by personal challenge, frustration and loss, it was incongruous to hear sessions described in terms of possibilities - ‘Who would have thought it was possible?’. Recently there has been a growing interest in the arts and dementia and how creativity can unleash potential for engagement and expression. As an occupational therapist I am particularly interested in what Csikszentmihalyi described as the concept of ‘flow’ - the process of being completely absorbed or immersed with a feeling of focus and enjoyment in the process of an activity - for those experiencing even the severe cognitive challenges dementia creates.

The showcase presented the opportunity for participants and relatives to show their artwork and describe their experiences, taking pleasure, pride and surprise in what they had produced. I shared their sense of achievement and wonder at some of the artworks that had been created. The residencies created possibilities for engagement and connections to form between the various media, artists and participants, relatives and staff. This collaboration of artists provided a varied canvas for people whose position is often devalued in our hyper cognitive society to connect, express and lose themselves in a way that brings meaning to and involvement in the process of life. 

It created surprise amongst family and staff and perfectly challenged assumptions about what people living with dementia can do, providing opportunities to level the differential that exists between those who have dementia and those who don’t. Through sculpture, storytelling and film, residents found new ways of expression where conventional communication matters less. I joined with the residents and family members to experience how dance and movement created connections in a language which is not reliant on words and this brought a fresh realisation that traditional methods disadvantage those for whom words are more difficult to find, but creativity allows expression through movement, laughter and fun in a way words never could.

Where the Arts Belong utilised such varied media it created many paths for engagement, the overwhelming sense I was left with from residents, family and staff was surprise and delight. It demonstrated abilities, skills and stories which had laid dormant, powerfully changing attitudes of those who were involved. For the artists the richness of collaboration, developing relationships and accessing untapped potential provided many possibilities and I was surprised again at the creativity which remains within despite the challenges dementia brings.

Learn more about Where the Arts Belong here

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Bluecoat is Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, the oldest in the UK. Our landmark building, located in the ...

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