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.
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.