Creative Aging Program History

As a free art museum, the Frye Art Museum is dedicated to serving the needs of its immediate neighborhood—particularly adults who have been homeless, the health care community, and older adults—through a robust offering of public programs. Our intention in these programs is to foster deep civic engagement with the community, create a strong, positive sense of place, unite disparate parts of the community in constructive ways, and influence the community’s health and wellbeing.

In 2009, recognizing the dramatic increase of Alzheimer’s disease and the aging population of the Frye’s visitors, the Museum explored the idea of offering an arts program for persons with dementia and their care partners. In spring 2010, the Frye developed a creative alliance with the Alzheimer’s Association and Elderwise, a Seattle nonprofit focused on cultural enrichment and art making for older adults. The pilot of here:now was launched in fall 2010 with support of the Frye Foundation.

Ten individuals (five individuals with Alzheimer’s, or a related dementia, and their care partners) recruited by the Alzheimer’s Association and Elderwise participated in the pilot program. A specially trained museum educator and a teaching artist led biweekly gallery discussion tours and art-making activities. The museum educator used a conversation-based approach to teaching in which there were no right or wrong answers and the exchange of ideas didn’t rely on short-term memory or recall of art historical information. The art-making sessions encouraged experimentation with watercolor paints, collage, and clay.

Also during the pilot phase, the Frye presented Art, Creativity, and Living with Dementia, a one-day conference focusing on how viewing, discussing, and creating art can enhance the lives of people with dementia. Geared toward professionals serving people with dementia, educators and programmers from arts and cultural organizations, and care partners, Art, Creativity, and Living with Dementia featured lectures and training by national experts on creative strategies for developing an arts-engagement program for individuals with dementia and their care partners.

Following evaluation of the six-month pilot phase, here:now evolved into two distinct offerings for individuals living with dementia and their care partners: a monthly discussion-based gallery tour and a six-session class which includes a gallery tour and studio art-making experience with social time.

For over a decade, the Frye has been at the forefront of museum programming for people living with dementia and their care partners, developing participatory arts experiences, offering professional development to individuals in the field, and publishing research that affirms arts engagement as a vital component of healthy aging. Learn more about the full slate of the Museum’s  Creative Aging Programs offered at the Frye and in the community.

here:now Research Study

A qualitative grounded theory analysis of here:now, lead by Lee Burnside, MD, MBA, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at the University of Washington, examined the potential of here:now to improve participants’ quality of life.

The study features in-depth interviews with care partners and people living with dementia who participated in here:now discussion tours and art-making classes.

Results indicate the program was well received by both care partners and participants living with dementia. "I felt lighter. I felt happier. You know, with my position, which is sometimes kind 'o down," commented a participant living with dementia. And a care partner noted, "This is a kind of respite for both of us together...that allows us not to think about what we are dealing with, but focus on something that is pretty pleasant."

The here:now research study was published in the March 2015 issue of Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice.

Read the abstract →