Community through craft

Arts, Culture & Heritage

Photo: Gary Quinton, participant in the Art to Inspire program.
Dementia friendly communities program creates warm, welcoming artistic opportunity.
Rachel Baerg, Head of Education at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, discusses the latest art installation on display in the main gallery with Dementia Friendly Communities’ Art to Inspire participants.

Gary Quinton has been living with dementia for the past six years. He speaks about it calmly, honestly, and candidly when recalling the first time he noticed something might be wrong.

“My brain wasn’t doing what I used to take for granted. I realized, ‘OK I see what’s going on here. I’m losing more and more connections in my brain.’ It was sort of like having little shorts in the network. I went to my doctor and he gave me a series of tests, and I found myself a member of the Alzheimer’s Society,” Mr. Quinton says.

Mr. Quinton found support through the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba’s Dementia Friendly Communities initiative. Dementia Friendly Communities is intended to foster companionship and conversation, explore ideas, reduce stigma, and inspire present-moment expression, as well as empower participants and give a renewed sense of hope for the future.

Mr. Quinton has attended the Vivace Voices Choir program at Canadian Mennonite University, as well as the Art to Inspire program at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

“It was just freeing, I loved that,” he says of Art to Inspire. “[The instructors] were just so warm and accommodating in their presentation. There was no fear, and I just loved that.”

Participants in Art to Inspire are invited first to view different art exhibits and paintings created by professional artists, and then taught to create their own art by the artists, and by professional art educators. The space is safe, welcoming, and supportive.

“I had no idea of what was going to occur. I had art classes in elementary and junior high classes, but never really felt satisfied or affected by them. But here, I just opened up to it with the other members from the Alzheimer’s group, and I just dug in.”

Mr. Quinton, who taught at Gordon Bell High School for 30 years, found out about the Dementia Friendly Communities initiative through weekly meetings at the Alzheimer Society, which he’s attended regularly since his diagnosis.

It was just freeing, I loved that. [the instructors] were just so warm and accommodating in their presentation. There was no fear.

Gary Quinton, Participant in the Art to Inspire program

Art to Inspire – and other Dementia Friendly Communities initiatives– aim to encourage, stimulate, and educate people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Care partners are welcome and encouraged to participate and create as well.

“These little things keep me connected. I think that’s very important not to hole up and just sit there, the worst thing a person can do is get angry and sulk, or just give up,” Mr. Quinton says.

“I had no concern about what it was to produce, and I just opened up to the blank sheet with no fear of failure or criticism. It was good to try to work and communicate, or produce images with some meaning, and if we’re lucky, some impact.”

Dementia Friendly Communities launched in 2016 and is inspired by similar successful programs in Spain, the UK, and Japan, where aging populations have meant a higher occurrence of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Every program is tailored to fit the needs of each community.

The Alzheimer Society of Manitoba has held sessions for dozens of organizations in the province, including Fire Fighters and Police Cadets. The sessions educate and inform others, so whenever citizens encounter people with dementia, they are more informed on how to handle a situation with dignity, respect, and the care every person deserves. The organization plans to expand sessions to include municipal governments and other public services, not-for-profit agencies, health interest groups, and transportation providers.

The Winnipeg Foundation has supported Dementia Friendly Communities initiative for the past three years, supporting staffing costs related to planning and preparation of the various programs.

Learn more:

This story is featured in the Fall 2018 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.

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