Program uses arts to engage those with memory loss and their caregivers

Barclay Shelton Dance Centre students will perform during the Golden Era Sing-Along May 4.

Free, open to the public and lots of fun: The Golden Era Sing-along is the last event for the fourth season of Edmonds Center for the Arts (ECA) Dementia-Inclusive Series, 11 a.m. on May 4. Watch film clips of classic musicals and sing-along in a relaxed atmosphere. “We don’t want people to feel that sense of formality, that because they’re in a theater, they have to sit still and be silent,” laughed Gillian Jones, director of programing at the center.

The Dementia-Inclusive Series seeks to engage people with memory loss, their families and caregivers through music, theatre and film.

Re-Ignite the Mind workshop March 25. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Center for the Arts)

Its 2018-2019 season kicked off last October with ukulele lessons, followed by a February workshop for caregivers utilizing the arts, and a four-week workshop in March called “Reignite the Mind with Improvisation and Play,” in cooperation with Taproot Theater.

The sing-along rounds out the series next month.

Jones noted that the 2019-2020 season this fall will bring back these programs and more. “We hope to offer expanded services to caregivers and continue to develop programs offsite at memory-care communities.”

It all began in 2015, when ECA joined with the group Songwriting Works to present a workshop at an Aegis facility in Lynnwood. “We thought it was a one-time event but we got great feedback, calls from people who wanted to know what was next.”

The arts center staff quickly learned there was demand in the area. “There was so much going on in Seattle in terms of dementia-friendly programming, but back in 2015 we found that there was a gap in Snohomish County,” Jones said. “It was important to our staff and boards to find funding and community support for these kinds of arts-engagement opportunities in Edmonds.”

Caregiving and the Arts workshop March 26 (Photo courtesy Edmonds Center for the Arts)

The Dementia-Inclusive Series is now supported by funders such as the Susan Elizabeth Foundation, Hazel Miller Foundation, Washington State Arts Commission, and the Anne & Mary Arts Environmental Education Fund.

The series is well received by participants, and just as gratifying for Jones is that people are engaged beyond ECA-sponsored events. “We’ve been excited to see friendships and connections develop outside of the program, which especially benefits caregivers who can feel isolated.”

The upcoming sing-along is another chance for community involvement.

“It’s super fun,” said Jones. “We start out with volunteer dancers from the Barclay Shelton Dance Centre in Edmonds, performing to a classic movie tune.” That’s followed by a program of film clips featuring songs from classic movies, hosted by Liz Shepherd from Northwest Film Forum.

“The sing-along really is welcoming to all generations,” Jones said. “This is a program that we see kids coming to, along with their grandparents. It’s beautiful to see them singing along to these classic songs and enjoying the moment together.”

— By Connie McDougall

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