Seniors at the Walker

Contemporary Journeys

Organization Associated with Program
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403

Contemporary Journeys is a tour and art-making program of the Walker Art Center (WAC) of Minneapolis for people with early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease and neurocognitive disorders and their care partners, family, and friends. Participants connect to art and each other through conversational tours and art labs, with contemporary art serving as a catalyst for community-building and self-expression. The goal is to create a social space that feels safe and connected to the greater Twin Cities community. People with memory loss are given a platform to contribute to their community, while their care partners, family members, and friends are given a respite from their efforts to facilitate these contributions on their own.

During the program the art lab coordinator provides context for the activity through images, video, and music. Occasionally, the coordinator will bring a group into the galleries to prompt ideas. The facilitator provides a physical model of the activity and poses open-ended questions for people to respond to. These responses often turn into a dialogue that runs throughout the art-making process. A variety of materials are provided, and no prior art-making experience is necessary. For groups comprised primarily of people with memory loss, WAC tries to have a one-to-one ratio in the art lab to support participants in material manipulation and activity review. There are opportunities to share work with the larger group.

Program History

Individuals, long-term care facilities, and adult day centers may call and set up a meeting time for participants (four to five facilities visit regularly—approximately two to four times per month). The Walker Art Center also offers a recurring program on the last Wednesday of each month. A Contemporary Journeys tour or art lab generally lasts between an hour and 15 minutes and an hour and a half. All programs are led by a professional teaching artist or educator.

Program Research and Key Findings

In 2009, the Walker Art Center received funding from the MetLife Foundation to conduct and evaluate a pilot of Contemporary Journeys, which was based on the New York Museum of Modern Art’s Meet Me at MoMA program for persons with dementia. The main program goal was to increase enjoyable activity, feelings of self-efficacy, and psychosocial wellbeing for people with memory loss, and to relieve emotional distress for care partners while offering a learning opportunity. The study utilized a single group pre-test/post-test design.

The integrated tour/art lab approach appeared to have its most significant impact on psychosocial wellbeing, increasing care partners’ perceptions of their loved ones with memory loss, and overall quality of life. These findings were confirmed in written and oral comments from care partners, which indicated the appearance of stimulation and benefits extending beyond the walls of WAC. Findings also suggested that the program may motivate increased engagement in enjoyable activities besides art. It appears that the integration of tours with the individualized creative expression provided in the art labs resulted in a more proactive approach to living with memory loss that increased engagement in a wide range of activities.

Program Assessments and Evaluations

Multiple evaluations are conducted by staff on an ongoing basis throughout the program. Evaluation tools include surveys, interviews, and attendance numbers. WAC has used a variety of evaluations including those geared to measure changes in mood and capacity for self-expression. In 2009-2010 the program was professionally evaluated by Dr. Joseph Gaugler of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Advice for Other Organizations Conducting Similar Programs

Go slowly and work with experts across disciplines.

Kinds of creative engagement/ program focus Creation of Original Work, Exhibiting Artwork, Viewing Artwork, Participate in a Class, Participate in a Workshop
Arts Discipline: Dance, Design, Media Arts, Museums, Music, Visual Arts
Interdisciplinary Connections: Civic Engagement, Education, Volunteerism
Target Audience: Active Adults, Caregivers - Family, Caregivers - Professional, Frail Older Adults, Intergenerational, People with Alzheimer's Disease / Dementia
Adaptive Program Design Hearing Disabilities, Visual Disabilities, Mobility Disabilities, Cognitive Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities, Psychiatric Disabilities
Program Setting: Arts Organization
Program Service Area: Suburban, Urban
Type of Practice: Field Tested Best Practice