MSUToday
Published: April 29, 2010

Kresge Art Museum hosts Elder HeART tours

Contact(s): Lauren Talley University Relations student writer office: (517) 353-4355 lauren.talley@ur.msu.edu

The only sound at the Kresge Art Museum April 13 came from a couple docents arranging chairs in semi-circles around several pieces of art.

“They’re early,” said Bonney Mayers, a docent at Kresge, as she welcomed a small group of visitors.

The museum doors slid open as the group slowly shuffled inside. The docents introduced themselves, handed out name tags and guided guests to their seats for a private tour of the museum.

The group of museum goers makes up Elder HeART, a program at Kresge which provides a safe and individualized experience for people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia, Mayers said.

Mayers’ experience caring for an elderly relative inspired her to start the program at Kresge, which is modeled after a project at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Mayers attended a training course with another Kresge docent, Betsy Fischer, at MOMA. Mayers and Fischer started developing a similar program at MSU about three years ago.

For the Elder HeART tours, docents arrange seating to make it easier on the participants and plan tours at the guests’ convenience. They choose pieces of art that are large enough for everyone to see, not surrounded by distracting images. But one aspect that makes the tours different is the amount of time spent on just a few pieces of art.

“It’s a five-step process,” Mayers said. “We sometimes take up to 20 minutes to talk about one work of art. Average museum goers spend about four seconds in front of a painting, but we describe all the elements and then we interpret it.”

The tour April 13 focused on five pieces of art. Docents took turns describing each piece, but it became more of a discussion than a lecture. Docents are trained to ask questions to evoke memories without asking, “Do you remember?” Mayers said.

Ruth Strang, 87, said she enjoyed her first visit to Kresge. 

“It’s a real treat to me,” Strang said. “When someone says they’re doing something I haven’t done, I want to do it. I want to see it all. Here I had to get this old to see these things. I’ll never forget it.”

Kresge has hosted about 10 tours since the program started fall 2009. The goal is to have at least one tour a week, Fischer said.

“We hope to increase awareness with people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia living in the community,” Fischer said. “We also want to inspire other organizations to see there are actually programs these people can participate in, which improves the relationships with their caregivers. It’s a very joyful experience.”   

Elder HeART is one of the only programs of its kind in Michigan, Fischer said. She said she hopes the tours at Kresge and the Museum of Modern Art will encourage museums around the country to start similar programs for people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Elder HeART tours can be arranged by contacting Cari Wolfe at (517) 353-9834.

Kresge Art Museum staff host small, private tours as part of Elder HeART, a new program at the museum which provides an individualized art experience for people living with Alzheimer's and dementia.

Kresge Art Museum staff host small, private tours as part of Elder HeART, a new program at the museum which provides an individualized art experience for people living with Alzheimer's and dementia.

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