While working with the Alzheimer’s Association in 2019, current FIA Access Coordinator Jennifer Giddings-Essenmacher noticed something missing in Greater Flint. “There were simply no social engagement programs in this area for people with any form of dementia,” she says. “The closest programs were centered in Detroit and Grand Rapids.” She lobbied area institutions with ideas to initiate such a program to no avail. So, when she joined the FIA staff in 2022, she made building such a program a top priority. Last October, her efforts came to fruition when the FIA launched the first of many Art Spark! gallery tours.
Art Spark! is a program designed for people with mild to moderate memory loss and their care partners. “Anyone with any form of memory loss can come with a care partner,” Giddings-Essenmacher elaborates. “There doesn’t have to be a diagnosis. Everyone is welcome here at the FIA.” The Art Spark! program was modeled after similar programs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Grand Rapids Art Museum. FIA has also become a member of the Spark Alliance, “a foundation of museums, nature centers and cultural centers committed to the inception, development, facilitation and sustainability of cultural programs for people with memory loss and their care partners.”
“Art Spark! is about bonding together – about bringing those suffering from memory loss and their caretakers together in a special experience.”
Jennifer Giddings-Essenmacher, FIA Access Coordinator
Once a month, those with memory loss and their care partners will experience interactive tours in select FIA galleries and areas of the museum led by art school instructors and volunteers. Each FIA employee has been specially trained in helping those with dementia while they experience the museum. Walkers and other mobility apparatus are welcome and the FIA has wheelchairs ready for those in need. “Our staff are trained on accessibility,” states Giddings-Essenmacher. “The disease is different in everyone. Our employees are trained in how to greet and socialize with those who are experiencing dementia and how to be patient.” Art Spark! Gallery Tours are offered at 10am on the third Thursday of each month with a 30-minute coffee social for participants to socialize with peers starting at 9:30am. Tour groups are limited to 20 participants and pre-registration is required. Since its opening tour, the program has been a hit. “We had four participants at our first tour,” says Giddings-Essenmacher, “and we had 13 at our most recent. It’s starting to fill up fast. Register early if you are interested.” Gallery tours conclude at 11am.
With the Art Spark! Gallery Tours established, Giddings-Essenmacher has plans to take the program one step further. “In early 2024, we are going to include art-making as a part of the program!” she says excitedly. “We will offer beginner workshops in printmaking, clay, ceramics, watercolors and more!” The art-making sessions will happen separate from the gallery tours, offering an additional opportunity for Art Spark! participants to explore the FIA and create memories. Dates and times will be provided in the future.
Since 2019, Giddings-Essenmacher has dreamed of bringing a program to the area for those who are experiencing dementia and memory loss and she is extremely proud to be able to offer the Art Spark! program to Genesee County. “It’s about bonding together,” she states. “It’s about bringing those who are experiencing memory loss and their care partners together in a special experience.”
Art Spark! programs are FREE. Registration is required and must be made at least five days in advance to reserve your spot. To register, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.727.3900. Group Tours can also be booked on a select basis if area homes and/or assisted living facilities are interested. Contact Giddings-Essenmacher at email@example.com or call 810.339.6022 for scheduling.
Don’t forget to support the FIA at the Community Gala featuring exhibition artist Mario Moore on January 20 beginning at 6pm. Tickets are still available.