Since its inception in 1971, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts has continuously given back to the community through a variety of educational and transformative arts programs; in fact, community building is part of The Center’s core values, as stated on its website.

To further its community-enriching mission, The Center is offering “Stepping Out of the Frame: Museum-Based Art Therapy Program,” a six-week pilot program dedicated to facilitating therapeutic experiences for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. The program is intended to expand The Center’s reach and maintain its goal of serving more diverse populations within the Sun Valley area.

The foundation of the program—museum-based art therapy—“marries both art therapy and art education,” said Jordyn Dooley, art therapist and enrichment educator at The Center. Dooley, who is leading the workshop, differentiated museum-based art therapy from under the umbrella of art therapy and art education, defining it as a mixture of “education and learning” that “foster[s] desire … and catalyz[es] healing through the museum experience.”

Each workshop will meet twice a week for two hours. The sessions combine art viewing and art making, intended to “integrate art exploration and learning of new processes,” Dooley explained.

The program will use themes from The Center’s current exhibition, “Mirage: Energy, Water and Creativity in the Great Basin,” at the heart of the sessions.

“The exhibition is really serendipitous to the program,” Center Artistic Director Kristin Poole said.

Dooley followed up, adding that the themes explored by the exhibition, such as “place, memory, landscape and regeneration,” are “approachable, … open for interpretation, [and] can help us locate our own memories.” She said the featured artists are “finding beauty and purpose within a changing landscape, which is a great metaphor [for this program.]”

The activities will have concrete instructions and be designed to stimulate the senses. For many patients with neurodegenerative diseases, the senses—especially one’s sense of smell—play a large role in re-accessing memories, Dooley said. Caretaker attendance is mandatory, and she said she hopes to include everyone in the activities.

“Art can be an outlet for physical expression and active engagement,” she said. “We’re excited to get caretakers involved as well and have them connect and learn new skills together in a different environment. It can be fun!”

The program’s targets include improving participants’ attention spans, increasing social skills and connection between the individual and the community, and reducing anxiety and stress stemming from symptoms of the disease.

“The museum is a nonstigmatizing environment—nothing is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ and there are no prior expectations. We want it to be an opportunity for conversation,” Poole said.

Continued Dooley, “We are molding and shaping [this program] with the community, honoring attendees’ recall and desire to learn. We will jump off from their engagement and curiosity and keep them learning, while still honoring what they know.”

At the end of the program, participants will prepare their work and develop an exhibition to showcase their achievements. The final exhibition is intended to empower participants as well as impact the community and their perceptions of neurodegenerative diseases.

“We’re meeting a need in the community with this pilot program,” Dooley said. “It’s an evolving process, so we’ll see what comes, see the best way going forward. We’re hoping to use this opportunity to see what needs won’t be met—and to try and better meet them and keep this program going in some form in the future.”

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