Monday, November 15, 2010

Reaching Out to New Audiences

A blog post by education director Deborah Cardin.

Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, is a fatal brain disorder in which certain types of nerve cells in particular areas of the brain degenerate and die. Individuals who suffer from this disease often have such difficulty remembering things and completing familiar tasks that daily routines often become impaired. Because of these challenges, many people withdraw from family members and friends, and sometimes even stop engaging in hobbies and participating in social activities.

Several years ago, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) developed Meet Me At MOMA, an educational program specifically designed for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers as a means of providing individuals with a forum for learning about art and creative expression in a nurturing environment. Recognizing the value of this program for making art accessible to individuals with disabilities throughout the country, MOMA has created a nationwide initiative that seeks to replicate this model in other communities. (To learn more about MOMA’s program, check out

Over the summer, JMM staff members were approached by staff from the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association about participating in a pilot program in Baltimore that seeks to replicate MOMA’s highly acclaimed program series. After much discussion about what kinds of programs we might be able to offer (as well as, admittedly, some apprehension about working with a population that we knew little about), we eagerly jumped on board with hopes of sharing our exhibitions and educational programs with a new audience. My intrepid colleague Elena Rosemond-Hoerr offered to spearhead this new initiative by developing programs and coordinating tours.

On November 5, Carol Wynn from the Alzheimer’s Association led a training workshop for JMM staff and volunteers to give us background on the disease and to share insight as to what we might expect during the programs. As she distributed fact sheets with information and warning signs (to learn about the 10 warning signs of the disease, check out, she also answered questions and made suggestions for leading tours that would be inclusive and welcoming. One thing Carol repeatedly stressed is that the participants in our programs are experiencing early on-set Alzheimer’s disease and are still able to function to certain degrees in their jobs and daily activities. (To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Maryland, visit:

For our first program on November 15, Elena created a two-part program making use of our special exhibition, A Blessing To One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People. She started with an exhibition tour. While the group was smaller than expected, this actually proved advantageous and it lent a very intimate feel to the tour.

While participants seemed a bit shy initially, as the tour progressed, it became clear that many in the group were touched by various photographs and artifacts, particularly in the last section of the exhibit that explores Pope John Paul II’s visit to Israel. Two of the members of the group reminisced about a recent visit to Israel where they stood on Mt. Nebo at the same spot where the Pope stood and delivered an address during his trip.

The second part of the program was more interactive and participants had the opportunity to play a version of the game “Jeopardy” with questions geared towards the exhibition. Participants called out categories (“Early Childhood for $200, please”) and answered questions based on what they had seen. It was fun to see the competition heat up as participants raced to get their hands in the air and call out the answers. The program ended with participants sharing new things that they had learned about Pope John Paul II.

Bringing JMM programs and resources to new and often underserved audiences is an ongoing effort. We are grateful to Carol Wynn and the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Maryland for reaching out to us as partner in the exciting new initiative. We look forward to our next program which will take place this spring (one idea is to bring in artist Lorning Cornish for a morning of mosaic-making!) and to creating an established program series at the JMM.

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