Recollection: Storytelling Through Memementos

Objects are powerful conversation starters. Personal objects store our stories, histories, and memories. Found objects reveal our experiences, dreams, assumptions, and values. Recollection: Storytelling Through Mementos is a project that explores how and why we collect and save objects. No matter our generation or age, we keep objects that hold meaning.

Storytelling workshops were conducted at six partner organizations. Participants were invited to bring a personally meaningful object with them and asked to share its history and meaning with a small group—often with acquaintances and community members that they see regularly, but may not know very well. Other participants were invited to join in a collaborative storytelling workshop where found objects were displayed on the table. Participants were asked to select an object and to start a story by identifying who owned the object and where. Participants then worked together, using the other objects on display to develop creative, and unexpected, stories. This exhibit was organized and under the creative direction of Michael Flanagan and Rebecca Mushtare. In addition, Seeley Cardone collaborated on the storytelling workshop design and helped to facilitate the sessions that provided the content included in the exhibition. Original Recollection branding by Stephanie Armour Dobrowolski. Photography and catalog by Julie Farquhar. Exhibition designed by Kelsi Bryden, Liliya Gapyuk, Kimberly Grunden, Nicole Lightfoot, Kayla Matthews, Rasheda McLean, Tyler Morgan, Ngan Nguyen, Miles Petersen, Hannah Sojka, and Carly Violante under the direction of Michael Flanagan and Rebecca Mushtare. Technical support from Steven Ginsburg.

Installation of exhibition at St. Luke Health Services in Oswego, NY.
Interior of catalog. Catalog designed by Julie Farquhar. Photo by Ngan Nguyen.
Collaborative stories piece designed by Liliya Gapyuk and Hannah. Sojka. Photo by Julie Farquhar.
Spin for a story designed by Kelsi Bryden and Miles Petersen.
One of ten posters meant to extend the extend the exhibit throughout the facility. Designed by Kimberly Grunden.

Recollection: A Memory Awareness Project

As life expectancy increases, and the overall senior population grows, we are faced with increased incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia, which impacts individuals and their support networks. Lack of interest, lack of training and perceived irrelevance by young adults are challenges that surface when addressing health issues related to aging. In 2012, Tyler Art Gallery at SUNY Oswego, began planning a project, Recollection: A Memory Awareness Project, to illuminate issues surrounding Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders and engage our community in a dialogue about its impact. The project included an exhibit in two galleries in 2014 (one at our main campus and one at a branch campus), film screenings, lectures and training workshops to introduce the arts into the care plans of local facilities. The initiative engaged students, faculty, staff, health care professionals, adult care providers, senior care facility residents and their family members to create content for the exhibit. Although not originally planned, the exhibition traveled to five adult care facilities and a public library throughout Central New York before “retiring” in 2016.

The true power of the project organically unfolded while the exhibit occupied these non-traditional spaces with non-traditional audiences. As the project gained traction, components were adapted to respond to the needs of the community and to better represent and amplify their voices. The structure of the project has allowed for fluid participation and a sustainable pace. We’ve deepened our partnerships and developed a reusable framework for future iterations of Recollection and other forms of multi-generational, multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional collaboration.

recollection logo is a purple bridge
Installation of exhibition at Tyler Art Gallery.
The Pathway and Cards for Compassion installed at Loretto’s Cunningham Facility in CNY.
Dear Alzheimer’s postcard and exhibition handout.
Individual opening one of the cards for compassion which included both a sound recording and text.
Cards for compassion installed at Loretto’s Cunningham facility in CNY.

Students collaborated on the work included in the exhibition, including two large-scale non-digital interactive works that engaged the spaces and participants in unexpected ways. One piece, Cards for Compassion (designed by Tim Ano, Mallory Eckert, Katherine Morelli and Evander Russ), is a collection of fifty greeting cards with sound modules that weave together the words, wisdom and experience of those locally impacted by dementia. Each card tells the story of dementia from a unique and personal perspective, many of which offer conflicting points of view. The second installation is The Pathway (designed by Katelyn Cardone, Sean Gnau, Tong Lu and Alan Wisniewski) is a series of 24 double-sided cards that hang from the ceiling and dance in the breeze. One side of each card contains either a photo or facts and statistics about dementia juxtaposed with a personal story on the reverse.

After traveling to the first adult care facility it became clear that the exhibition needed to have a component that would allow viewers to share and process their own stories. For this component a postcard was designed. The side to write on started with “Dear Alzheimer’s” or “Dear Dementia” and participants were asked to write a letter to the disease. Visitors included their stories in the provided album and helped to grow the exhibition in each space it traveled to.

These pieces and other components of the project are detailed in a short paper titled, The Art Gallery as a Platform for Advocacy and the Exhibition Brochure.