CaringKind’s President & CEO, Jed A. Levine, moderator; Mark Dziewulski, a full-time caregiver and an accomplished artist and architect; Laura Sloan, the Manager of Docent and Access Programs at the Rubin Museum of Art; Meredith Wong, CaringKind’s Manager of connect2culture
by James Campbell
James Campbell is a freelance writer based in New York City. He also works with a humanitarian organization that advocates for child rights at the United Nations.
CaringKind’s Loraine Halis Lecture on the Art and Science of Caregiving, has always provided an outlet to examine the social, political, moral, and ethical facets of caregiving. On April 23, at TheTimesCenter in New York, Caringkind added aesthetics to this tapestry of lecture topics with Connect to Culture: An Artist’s Perspective on Caregiving.
Dorene Scolnic, daughter of Loraine Halis, opened the evening by sharing a story about art’s power to help deal with a disease that affects both memory and identity. A painting of her mother as a young woman became a focal point of her room after she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It stimulated her mother to talk about her life and acted as a reminder “not just of who she had been, but who she still was.”
CaringKind’s Founding Director Lou-Ellen Barkan carried Ms. Scolnic’s deeply personal sentiment by reflecting on how she “became her own client” when she became her mother’s caregiver and discussed the need to accept the world on her mother’s terms.
Before introducing the panel, CaringKind’s President and CEO Jed A. Levine contemplated the words of theologian Thomas Merton, who said, “Art enables us to find ourselves, and lose ourselves at the same time.” This sentiment lingered over the evening’s conversation, as the panel discussed the ways in which art helps caregivers to manage the loss of self embedded in their role, and the desire to escape their present reality.
The panel encompassed caregivers who make art, and those who ensure that art is accessible and relevant to caregivers. Mark Dziewulski is an artist and architect whose work is inspired by his experience as a caregiver for his mother. He looks at the ways in which communication is not simply verbal, but also requires presence. Laura Sloan manages the Rubin Museum’s Mindful Connections program for visitors with memory loss and their partners. Meredith Wong manages connect2culture, a cultural initiative at CaringKind, which trains educators at cultural institutions to create and implement programs for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Throughout the evening, the three panelists landed on the concepts of inclusion and the self. Ms. Sloan described how the Rubin Museum covers issues pertinent to people with dementia and caregivers: health and wellness, protection, and mindfulness to name a few. The space of the museum itself, warm and inviting with a quiet ambiance, lends itself to creating peace and serenity caretakers so desperately need.
Ms. Wong explained how connect2culture’s programs create an individualized and inclusive experience by encouraging museum staff to add different sensory layers to the exhibits, so “someone who is not able to verbalize can respond to a different sensory experience.“
This idea of layers of experience dovetails with Mr. Dziewulski’s sculpture Layers of Self, which consists of individual panels of painted glass bolted together to create a three dimensional bust. Mr. Dziewulski spoke of the role of art in creating a shared, inclusive experience for both him and his mother, where he was indulging his passion for art and, “She was living in the moment. She couldn’t worry about the past, she couldn’t be afraid of the future so the moment was what she had.”