Madison Children's Museum SPARK! Program

Organization Associated with Program
Madison Children's Museum SPARK! Program
100 North Hamilton St.
Madison, Wisconsin 53703

SPARK! is a cultural arts program conducted by the Madison (Wisconsin) Children’s Museum for older adults with memory loss and their loved ones. This intergenerational program encourages participants to both view and make art, often focusing on living in the moment with an emphasis on the five senses. Sessions last 90 minutes and are divided into three 30-minute segments: the first focuses on viewing art, the next on related art-making activities, and the last on encouraging participants to share what has been created at an informal reception, with healthy snacks and tea offered. The program (and parking) is free thanks to generous support from the Helen Bader Foundation.

SPARK! is offered two times each month at the Madison Children's Museum, typically the first Tuesday and the last Saturday of the month, from 10:00 to 11:30 am. The Saturday program includes an option in which older participants work on art projects with Girl Scouts. There is also an outreach program for residents of Capital Lakes Retirement Community the first Tuesday of each month from 1:00 to 2:30 pm. All program activities are facilitated by a museum educator who has been trained by both the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and the New York Folk Art Museum on how to develop and conduct arts programs for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.

Program History

The Madison Children’s Museum was founded in 1980 by a group of early childhood specialists with the mission to connect children with their families, their communities, and the world beyond through discovery learning and creative play. The founding board of directors and volunteers built traveling exhibits that were displayed at neighborhood centers, parks, and playgrounds. They also operated a pilot museum in the basement of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters. The success of the pilot program prompted the museum to relocate to a warehouse at Bedford and West Washington Streets. The museum has continued to grow into new spaces and now manages strong interdisciplinary programs that emphasize the arts, sciences, history, culture, health, and civic engagement.

SPARK! was launched in October 2010 and has an average of 150-200 participants each year. The Madison Children’s Museum is also a part of the SPARK! Alliance, which consists of ten museums across Wisconsin (with one in Minnesota) that have created this type of programming with funding from the Helen Bader Foundation.

Program Assessments and Evaluations

The program is evaluated on an ongoing basis by staff through the use of surveys, attendance records, and interviews.

Advice for Other Organizations Conducting Similar Programs

Be open to beginning an arts and aging program within your organization. Visit other museums that are currently doing this work to network and learn about best practices. 

Kinds of creative engagement/ program focus Creation of Original Work, Exhibiting Artwork, Viewing Artwork, Participate in a Class, Participate in a Workshop, Watch a Lecture/Demonstration
Arts Discipline: Folk/Traditional Arts, Museums, Visual Arts
Interdisciplinary Connections: Volunteerism
Target Audience: Caregivers - Family, Caregivers - Professional, Frail Older Adults, Intergenerational, People with Alzheimer's Disease / Dementia
Adaptive Program Design Cognitive Disabilities
Program Setting: Arts Organization, Assisted Living
Program Service Area: Rural, Suburban, Urban
Type of Practice: Promising Practices