Individuals with memory loss and their care partners are finding a way to express their creativity thanks to a partnership between the University of Illinois Springfield Human Development Counseling Program (HDC) and the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment.
Art Express classes are held every Wednesday afternoon in the Banner Bunch room at Hope Presbyterian Church, located at 2211 Wabash Ave. in Springfield.
The program is led by Karen Lee, UIS clinical instructor of Human Development Counseling, and Maggie Schaver of the SIU Medicine Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders. Graduate students from the UIS Human Development Counseling Program, community and church volunteers also assist with the class, partnering with individual participants.
“The mission of Art Express is to provide persons with memory loss disorders an outlet to creatively express themselves without needing memory or communication skills,” said Schaver. “Although memory is often impaired early in the course of disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, creativity is often alive and well, even in the more advanced stages of a disease. Art Express clients benefit from the therapeutic effects of participating in art expression, as well as from interacting with other clients, the students and the volunteers.”
In 2018, Art Express hosted an average of 20 clients, 11 students and four volunteers every Wednesday and presented an art exhibition and reception entitled “Hope, Love, Art” where seniors were able to showcase their work. The program will host another exhibition and reception on February 24, 2019.
Seniors who have participated in the program say the class “gives them enjoyment” and a chance to socialize and have conversations with others, while having fun creating artwork.
“I remember one of our participants who reluctantly joined the program believing that he had no artistic ability and doubting whether this program was really for him,” said Lee. “He discovered over time, much to his surprise, that he had quite a considerable talent for drawing, composing and producing beautiful colored pencil images – so much so that he eventually purchased his own set of colored pencils so that he could continue to work on his drawings at home. I will never forget the day he came to class, proudly holding up his latest production, grinning broadly, and proclaiming, ‘Look! I am still becoming!’”
The Art Express program was founded in 2012. Persons with memory loss are referred to Art Express through the SIU Medicine Memory & Aging Clinic. Some attend class with a family member, while others attend with another care partner or attend alone.
“One of the best aspects of this program is that it focuses on what still works, not what is broken” said Lee. “We believe that each person is still capable of growing and developing, no matter where they find themselves in terms of their memory loss. I tell them ‘we are all still becoming.’”