Memory Café

in art gallery, woman standing and pointing to painting while speaking to group of seated elderly people

Currier program helps those experiencing memory loss and their care partners

On the first Wednesday of every month, Currier Museum of Art in Manchester holds Memory Café, a program for individuals experiencing memory loss along with their care partners.

“The Memory Café is something that the Currier has done for quite some time, but we stopped doing it during the pandemic,” said Corey Lyford, who administers and designs the program. “We were only able to relaunch the program this past June. It’s designed to be a really joyful art looking experience for people in early stages of memory loss along with their care partners. A care partner could be a spouse, an adult child [or] a friend. … Any and all are welcome.”

Each session starts in one of the studio spaces at the museum, where attendees gather for light refreshments and socialization to get to know each other before heading to the gallery.

Before Covid, the entirety of the session would take place in the studio, where the art would be presented on slides. While this approach made it possible to look at multiple pieces, including ones that were not in the Currier collection, the team felt it was important to offer the true gallery experience.

While looking at the art, program facilitator Lucie Chmura likes to encourage people to use the method of “slow looking.”

“People get to really take time and relax into looking at a piece of artwork, much longer in front of it than one normally would when moving through the gallery spaces,” Lyford said. “Folks get to think about engaging their different senses, such as looking at a painting and thinking about what [they] hear when looking at this painting. Are there any sounds that come to mind? Everything is very open-ended. There are no wrong answers. People don’t have to draw on memory. This is really about what we’re all experiencing together in the moment.”

When deciding what art to select for the program, Lyford said she and Chmura think about the conversations the pieces may inspire, going for ones that are likely common to everyone in the group, to create an enjoyable, positive experience for both those experiencing memory loss and those who are not. Prompts are used to help viewers engage with the piece and to enliven conversation.

“We’re trying to blur that line between a care partner and someone with memory loss,” Lyford said. “We’re trying to help people not feel stigmatized and not feel like they’re standing out [or] like the attention of the program is on the fact that they have memory loss.”

She says the purpose of Memory Café is to create a support system and build connections while enjoying a creative experience.

“We hope for people to find respite and to find the museum as a resource for them and to keep engaging with these creative opportunities even if they are in a place in their life where they may have felt like that wasn’t possible anymore,” Lyford said. “We want people to feel safe and that applies to the person with memory loss and also for their care partners. They can be going through some pretty difficult times, so we’re hoping that this provides a creative space for them and one that they’ll want to come back to and see familiar faces from month to month.”

Memory Café
When: The first Wednesday of every month. The next session is Wednesday, Nov. 2, from 1 to 2 p.m.
Where: Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester

Featured photo: Memory Cafe. Photo Courtesy of the Currier Museum of Art.

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