Week 2:
Looking at the Framework


Cornell Fellow in Creative Aging

Frye Art Museum, Creative Aging Programs | Seattle, Washington

November 8, 2019

Wow, what a week!  I started my internship off by meeting with my direct supervisor and the director of the Creative Aging Programs, Mary Jane Knecht, for a lovely little lunch in the Frye’s cafe.  Mary Jane and I had been in touch over email since last November and met briefly while I visited Seattle for the Frye’s Perspective on Memory conference, but this was the first chance we had to actually sit down and talk.  Having this introduction with her was such a warm welcome for my internship and an appreciated moment to begin getting my bearings within the museum.

There are currently six exhibitions that are in place – two will be changing before I leave in late December and I’m curious about what that transition will be like.  It is such a privilege to be able to work surrounded by vibrant and expressive art.  I’m going to make an effort to keep the novelty of this gift from wearing off; I want to try and continue to gain insight and appreciation for the works I will be interacting with so frequently.  One of the many aspects of the Frye that I find so incredible is that this museum is free to the public.  Anyone can come in and have access to a diverse display of art.  There is also an abundance of free programming that is available to the public, including the Creative Aging Programs.

This week really allowed me insight into the framework of the Creative Aging Programs: I went to meetings, observed the
“here:now” tour group, and participated in Meet Me at the Movies.

I was given the opportunity to sit in on the quarterly Adult Aging Advisory Committee meeting – how cool is it that my internship timing lined up with this event!?  I was able to sit in a beautiful, sunny conference room and sip on Earl Grey tea while interacting with the group of individuals who truly make the Creative Aging Programs possible.  I had been nervous to attend this meeting – here I was, still obtaining my undergrad, sitting among doctors, artists, and directors/managers/founders of various other prominent programs located throughout the city.  Much to my anxiety’s surprise, I was met with smiles and warmth.

Observing this meeting really allowed me to see all of the efforts that go into providing these programs to the public.  Every member on the Advisory Committee has a passion for improving the well-being of older adults through the integration of the arts and medical care.   The Head of Communications and Content Strategy at the Frye was asked to come in to the meeting and discuss a conference she had recently attended at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA).  The MMFA is truly pioneering new ways of integrating the arts and medical well-being.  The museum has begun partnering with doctors who will literally write people prescriptions to go spend an afternoon among art.  All of their up and coming pilot programs are followed by rigorous studies to assess their effectiveness.  There is no doubt that the MMFA’s program is worth striving for and learning from.  However, I feel that the Creative Aging Advisory Committee in and of itself is inspirational and living proof that when inspired people work together to create their vision, amazing worlds can be created.

On my first day of the internship I was able to participate in here:now.  here:now is the arts engagement program that truly got my heart racing when I first began exploring the Creative Aging department.  This is a free program for adults living with dementia and their care partners to enjoy a relaxing and creative afternoon in a welcoming environment.  Everything about a here:now tour is right in the name, it is about the experience of the participant in the here and the now.  For the duration of the tour, the participant isn’t a dementia patient, they’re someone in a museum enjoying art.  This program has gallery tours and an art-making class, of which I will be participating in both throughout my time as an intern.

This first week I was a member of the gallery tour.  A specially trained museum educator who works with the Creative Aging department led a discussion-based tour for a group of 3 dementia patients and their care partners.  The beauty of these tours is that they don’t require previous knowledge of art history or the use of short term memory.  The discussion leader utilizes a specific approach to engage with the works on the tour called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS).  VTS meets people with where their current level of knowledge is and does so with an approach of validation.  There are no wrong answers to give in a here:now tour, everything is accepted.  For example, the question may be posed to the group, “What does this subject’s facial expression look like to you?” to which someone could answer, “He looks like he is being playful”.  The discussion leader would then say, “Susan says his facial expression looks playful to her.  What about his expression makes you think playful?”.  The discussion is very much led by open ended questions that are inherently correct because the answer is based off of the participants own reality.  There is also an ingrained component of mindfulness with questions framed around the engagement of the senses.  For example, when looking at a woven sweater in a gallery exhibition about clothing, participants may be asked what materials they thought this sweater was made of and then be prompted a step further by being asked how it might feel to wear that sweater.

Additionally to this already experience-rich week, I was able to attend a segment of Meet Me at the Movies.  Meet Me at the Movies is again targeted towards older adults and adults living with dementia.  Participants are shown a series of five to six clips of famous movies, both older and more contemporary, and then a space is held between the showing of each clip for discussion to take place.  After this programming ended and I was leaving for the day, I was pleasantly surprised to see that participants who didn’t appear to know one another at the beginning of the event were sitting together at a table in the cafe getting food.  Meet Me at the Movies, along with all other programs delivered by the Creative Aging Department, has a very unifying ability.  One of the other women that works to put this specific program on told me that families have all taken the bus together to get to the museum for Meet Me at the Movies.  There is something about the Frye that provides a really comfortable nook for creativity to come out and play.

All in all, this first official week was pretty top notch – and I know it’s only going to keep getting better.

Having a meeting in an actual conference room felt very surreal and like a glance into my professional future.
Most days when I finish up my internship I walk from the Frye through downtown to my bus stop and am met with the beginnings of a wonderful sunset — and lots of evening traffic.

Olivia Lohmann

Olivia is a psychology major and art history minor from Houghton, Michigan.