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How can people living with dementia influence the work of an artist?

This step highlights how the practice of professional artists can be influenced by the experience working with people with dementia.
For professional dancers involved with Dance for Life, the challenge to engage people with dementia in this very uncertain type of environment was for them to be responsive, to be reactive, to be guided by whatever happened in the room. And that puts them way outside their comfort zone. The art of dance and particularly performance, performing dance is about perfection. It’s about being step perfect, being able to put on a perfect display of skill and talent.
And in the environment of a care home with people with different forms of dementia, different people with different forms of dementia, with different personalities, different challenges, it’s a very uncertain environment, and for dancers to walk into that environment as artists and then to be using their art in a different sort of way, in a way that helps to create meaning for people living with dementia, and to establish those connections, it was a huge challenge. So the dancers at the end of the programme, I think would reflect.
We built in reflective practice, and they would reflect that they had learned so much about what it is to be human and how it is to use their skill for the benefit of others, without this pressure of it needing to be perfect, but for it to be in tune and responsive and in connection with how people with dementia were feeling that day. The reality of dementia that causes a lot of anguish and pain can actually be celebrated through art. When I began to work like this, work in these contexts, I initially thought these participants have got such wild ideas, and this is such a fertile artistic ground.
But you can’t just play with this material, because these are people that you’ve got a duty of care for, and that it’s not just like an artistic collaborator that you sort of like try anything. That’s not the reality. So I initially thought oh well, that’s a negative thing because I’ve got to be careful. And within my artistic practice, I don’t really like to be careful, really. I like to have a very loose relationship with material. I like to cut things up here, put it over here, try this out, try this out. I don’t really want to be careful artistically.
But actually, I’ve learned to just embrace that duty of care as a part of– as a sort of underlying part of the art making and a sort of element that’s in the room that doesn’t get in the way actually. It just supports it and becomes another element.

This step highlights how the practice of professional artists can be affected and influenced by the experience and process of working with people with dementia.

Hear from Barbara Stephens (Dementia Pathfinders) explaining some of the different ways in which professional dancers, who were involved in delivering a dance programme for people living with dementia in a care home setting, were challenged in their own disciplines by this novel experience. Timothy Cape (musician and educator) provides insight into how the experience of working with people living with dementia has influence his own understanding of his art form.

If you are an artist or an arts practitioner, how has the experience of working alongside people living with dementia influenced your own work?

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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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