Alzheimer’s Art Therapy Tours

Brooks’ Docent Coordinator Brenda Burgess muses on leading the Alzheimers’ Art Therapy tour with Erin Williams.

When a docent gives a tour, there are multiple factors that he or she has to keep in mind: Am I boring the audience? Can everyone hear me? Did I give enough time to ask questions?’ The parameters can vary with the group, but they manifest themselves ten-fold when the patrons are of a certain age – and state of mind. Before Brenda Burgess, docent coordinator and Alzheimers’ Art Therapy guide, gives Tuesday’s  tour, she shared her experience of leading this group of grand individuals around the gallery spaces in a conversation with guest blogger Erin Williams.

“You’re just trying to look for connections. Certainly, we’re more interested in what they see in the painting, and then talking to them about ‘What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find in the picture?’ And when you have a group of people, everyone gets a chance to contribute their thoughts – and everyone’s thoughts are important.”

“We have to really make sure that there are no major distractions. Part of what we do, of course, is we actually have these tours on Tuesdays, which Brooks is closed on Tuesdays. That way they are not a lot of noises or distractions and other people in the museum. It’s much quieter because folks are easily distracted or disturbed.”

“You have to be very cognizant of where you’re taking groups, because sometimes the area is just not large enough for everyone to be able to see and hear comfortably. For the Alzheimers tours, we do actually provide seating in the areas. We determine what area we’re going to go to and we actually put seats there so they can go and sit in front of [paintings]…so they’re not having to worry about moving around or standing on their feet too long. Obviously some people are in walkers or wheelchairs, so that’s something we have to think about too… as well as lighting! It’s really surprising how people who are seated see lights and such. There are a lot of reflections, and it can be very distracting.”

“[Sometimes I think] ‘Will I be able to have a conversation with them?’ and what I enjoy most is when you can have more of a running conversation with them and with several people. And you find out about their lives. THey will surprise you in a heartbeat. [In] the Tiffany exhibition there was some stained glass that had a landscape of windmills in Holland, and one of the gentlemen – he’d really been kind of semi-bored for several of the objects – but he got to that [and] he pulled his glasses off and looked at it a little more closely, and he started talking about a trip he had made to Holland once. He just became very animated, and it’s just kind of thrilling when you finally find that connection where they’re stimulated.”

“You want to spark memories, but you don’t want…to press people hard on any personal questions that might make them uncomfortable if they can’t remember. But you do want to ask folks to look at the art and talk about things. Sometimes you get different individuals speaking up about this that and the other and you can talk to them more, more back and forth, about a particular subject. These are people that have had amazing lives. [For instance], a gentleman – his wife, who is no longer living, was an artist. He talked about this and that related to just the artist’s side of doing artwork.”

“Enjoying having that conversation with them and learning more about them too and knowing that they appreciate it. They really seem to appreciate it so much.“

This month’s tour is themed around ‘Portraits,’ and will begin at 10:30 a.m. on May 21. Call 544-6215 to register.


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