Museums, Art Galleries and Dementia

In July I took part in the start of an intergenerational project with young people from Coundon Court School in Coventry and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum service (www.theherbert.org). It was great to see the work that is going on in Coventry to try and bridge the divide between people with dementia and the younger generation.

The project involves the youngsters – 12 and 13 years of age – talking to older people about their memories of working in Coventry during the 1950’s and 60’s, and then putting together a book with memories and photographs to be used with people from the City who have dementia.

Having grown up in Coventry myself, I was fascinated to see how the Museum and Art Gallery has developed since the 1970’s and how the service is developing its remit to work with people who have dementia, using their collections to make meaningful connections with people in care homes.

However, it was a bit worrying to see how many of the things I’m familiar with from my own life, are now museum exhibits. Old telephones, a dentist’s chair, a coach built pram, a school blazer, toys, Jackie magazines – I recognized them all – even the disposable nappies that my daughter wore (not the ACTUAL nappies she wore of course. Twenty seven years later they are probably still rotting in a landfill somewhere as I write).

I am looking forward to what comes out of this project and how it might be developed in Coventry or duplicated in other areas. Our local museums and art galleries have a wealth of resources, both in terms of beautiful and accessible community gallery spaces, and a wide range of interesting objects, art and photographs that could provide a fantastic resource for people in all stages of dementia. At the Herbert in Coventry, as in some other places, they are starting to make good use of just a small part of these collections.

If brave and imaginative people from our local arts and museums services could get together with local communities and those with expertise in dementia, there is so much that could be done to make use of these fantastic venues and their collections for the benefit of all those with dementia and their carers.

Helen J Bate

18th August 2013