Minnetonka Center for the Arts Offers Special Programming for People Living with Dementia

Minnetonka wants to be a dementia-friendly city. The Alzheimer’s Association defines a dementia-friendly community in part as one that is informed, safe and respectful of individuals with dementia and their families, provides supportive options, and fosters quality of life. One of the things Minnetonka is doing to improve the quality of life of citizens living with dementia is to partner with the Minnetonka Center for the Arts (MCFTA) to bring art into their lives.

Shared Stories Art Experiences is a multidisciplinary class giving people living with dementia the chance to be involved in creating art. The act of creating art—whether it’s mixing and choosing colors or molding and shaping clay—engages the mind and body on many levels.
Mara Miller is the adult program director for the MCFTA. She administers the grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board that underwrites Shared Stories. “The city identified a community need,” Miller says, referring to the dementia-friendly city initiative. “This is a new program for MCFTA that grew out of our understanding of how the arts can benefit seniors’ quality of life.”

Miller has a strong background in this area, having worked on issues related to arts and aging and working at the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council before joining MCFTA. She is well-versed in research showing the benefits of art in the lives of seniors. A 2014 study released by the NEA last year says “older adults who both created and attended art in 2014 reported better health outcomes that year.”

Michèle Coppin is an artist in residence at MCFTA. She worked with Miller on a series of mixed media classes for seniors last year. Coppin says she saw art as transformative in the lives of her students in that program.

“One of the most noticeable changes was in their enthusiasm,” Coppin says. “They quickly begin to think of themselves as artists.”  

Coppin says Shared Stories is also beneficial to caregivers. Participants create a portfolio that can be a family keepsake. It gives the caregiver and their loved one a chance to be involved in an enjoyable activity Coppin hopes will let them “rediscover each other,” she says.

Shared Stories also involves gallery talks and other enhancing programs developed for the dementia-impacted population. In addition to the Shared Stories series, the city senior activities office and the MCFTA are partnered in Memory Café—a morning gathering that meets on the third Tuesday of each month at the Minnetonka Community Center. The café includes an exercise class led by an instructor from the Ridgedale YMCA, as well as a focused art-making activity led by Coppin. Memory Café also offers a separate space for caregivers who can spend time in community with one another.

Steve Pieh is the senior services and activities manager for the city of Minnetonka. He says there is a lot of interest around this issue in the community.

“As a local senior center, we serve a wide variety of retirees, from their 50s to 100,” Pieh says. “Our goal with these programs is to help both the families and residents who are living with dementia.”

In addition to the city and the MCFTA there are several other organizations partnered in these projects—among them the Ridgedale YMCA and Hennepin County Libraries, as well as the Minnesota State Arts Board. Everyone is working toward the same goal, because at the end of the day, aging is universal. “A healthy community for seniors is a self-serving program,” Coppin says.

“We are all heading that way.”