The Orlando Museum of Art hosted its monthly Art’s the Spark program on March 12th, exploring themes of monsters and heroes in its newest exhibits. The event invites those with memory ailments and their caregivers to spend a morning observing, creating, and discussing art. These adults, many of whom have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, are offered a free, private museum tour and an opportunity to create art pieces at the museum’s on-site studio.
Museum curator Jan Clanton started the program in 2000 and came out of retirement to help lead the monthly activities once again. Clanton saw a lack of creative museum outlets in Florida, especially for the underserved elderly populations living with mental illness.
“It gives these people some place to go other than the doctor or to get a medical test,” said Clanton. “It allows them to just get out and interact with adults like them.”
This month’s event explained the works of famous graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and allowed attendees to go on an exhibit scavenger hunt looking for his trademark painting symbols. The tour also explored themes of good vs. evil in Renaissance and ancient American art. Addressing each person by name, Clanton and her colleagues led open-ended, personal discussions about what the art meant to them. Every program employee and volunteer interacted with the attendees, making sure they felt comfortable and free to express their opinion about the art topic at hand.
One of these employees is Pam Levin, who serves as the studio facilitator for the program’s monthly art project. After the tour has ended, those living with neurological impairments are offered a chance to design their own art piece based on what they had learned that day.
“They are always being told what they can’t do and can’t learn,” said Levin. “This program gives them a chance to actually create art with their own freedom and be immersed in positivity.”
Meanwhile, caregivers meet in another room to enjoy refreshments and socialize. This allows for people to talk about their experiences of caring for someone with a disability and offer support, suggestions, and resources.
Afterwards, each group comes together to observe or reveal their newly-made art piece. This month’s studio project focused on Basquiat’s symbols of crowns and color, demonstrating imagery of monsters and heroes. The attendees are also given the opportunity to let the museum borrow their piece to later be showcased in August’s public works exhibition.
While the Art’s the Spark program has been going on for decades, it still remains one of the few disability-focused art events in the country. In fact, it is currently the only art program of its kind in Central Florida. With the ongoing pandemic, many affected families are looking for new opportunities to go out and get away from recent stressors.
Volunteers of a new generation are also looking to enrich the lives of these families. UCF students, such as Lexi Schrobilgen, are spending their time making sure caregivers and their loved ones know their legacy will continue.
“My papa died of Alzheimer’s and he loved making art, so I wanted to help bring this same joy to other people like him,” said Schrobilgen. “I wish there was more awareness in the community about how art can make people happy. It’s a great thing to be a part of.”
The next Art’s the Spark event is scheduled for April 2nd and will hope to make new, exciting memories for all those involved.