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How do the arts create neutral ground for cultural diversity?

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I think traditionally, a lot of creative activities that were aimed at supporting people living with a dementia were focused on reminiscence. And often, there was a very narrow cultural definition of what was going to be reminisced about. So it neglected people who came from diverse ethnicities, people who had not had a traditional family network around them, people who were from different cultures and had come, perhaps, to live in this country later in life. And I think some of that has changed and certainly, in certain parts– particularly in London, I know there are very proactive reminiscence programmes that draw on a much broader cultural spectrum.
I think as we move away from the reminiscence model of what creative engagement with dementia might look like and move to a more proactive means of people engaging creatively in the present and enjoying creative activity in the present, that presents huge opportunities for more culturally diverse approaches. I think another problem is that a lot of arts practitioners working in more culturally diverse art forms and with more culturally diverse communities have not, perhaps, felt able to work in this area. And I think there is a real onus on people working in this area to diversify the work force of people delivering this activity.
So to be more open to creative practitioners, as well as participants from the widest possible range of backgrounds. Another reason for coming to and working in a non-verbal way and context was because when we did the first piece of interactive work, we were coming across people who were reverting to their mother tongues.
So we were getting people speaking Greek, Spanish, Portuguese– various other actually, European languages. We had people from the Asian subcontinent, Africa. And all reverting back to their mother tongues. And I did ask my artists to learn, actually, just basic words in each language if they ever came across it so that they could say hello, goodbye, thank you– all those things– as a moment of communication through the language and through words. When I came to do the non-verbal piece, that was another incentive for me to take the language out so that we could actually reach across all those cultures, as well, without worrying about which mother tongue someone had gone back to.
Because that’s the other thing that’s happening when people have different languages, when they’re forgetting one language, they revert back to another.

Damian Hebron and Arti Prashar look at some of the challenges that can be encountered in arts-based practices for people living with dementia as a result of cultural diversity.

This includes:

  • How some reminiscence activities for people living with dementia run the risk of being based around a narrow cultural definition

  • How more modern approaches of engaging people living with dementia in arts-based practices offer a much broader cultural scope

  • The challenges that may be experienced by arts practitioners working in more culturally diverse art forms and within more culturally diverse communities

Have you ever experienced any challenges in being able to engage in an arts-based activities due to a cultural barrier? If so, what was the barrier and how could it have been overcome? Share your experiences in the comments.

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

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