As a freelance community theatre practitioner, I work with a wide-range of skills; embodied storytelling, poetry and creative writing, movement/physical theatres and play in the delivery of creative projects. I am increasingly including multi-arts approaches, visual arts, crafting, technology and sound in my facilitation. I am passionate about arts projects which help to break down barriers that people may face. For older people issues with wealth, transport and health often prevents access to the arts; Glow aimed to not only make arts accessible but celebrate creativity in later life. It is undeniable the effect participatory arts practice has on a person’s wellbeing – from inspiring feelings of hope and joy, to tackling loneliness, to improving cognitive function by engaging the brain’s plasticity. There are no wrong answers in imagination, which can be empowering for people with cognitive impairment.
I saw all this potential for Glow.

The brief outlined by ROAR was to gather objects of inspiration, provocation and wonder which would help to foster artistic exploration with people living with dementia. The freedom within this brief meant I could be playful with how I responded to it and to my participants. In January I started participatory workshops with people living with dementia who attend day centre provision run by AGE UK and each week I brought objects, small curiosities, which could be used at stimulus for creative exploration and artworks.

As the workshops progressed, I gathered more objects, tools and creative materials in response to individual participant’s interests and abilities. The primary focus was on sensory-rich objects. In woodland themed sessions, we made small study sketches of evergreen foliage, made music with pinecones and washed our hands in hot water scented with pine essential oil. We also experimented with weaving natural materials.

Throughout the project I was very interested in how I could support participants’ decision-making and facilitate creative agency. As we explored different techniques together, participants would choose which materials to use in their artworks and would then often decide on a new direction for their pieces themselves; for example, what started as a sketch of a branch transformed into a winter landscape. Actualising their choices meant participants were more invested. I also found natural materials and curiosities to be the most effective, most likely because these items were familiar but as we grow older and also as health conditions such as dementia progress, access to the outside world often diminishes. So, through my facilitation we could choose to explore nature in different and unexpected ways which was often joyous, stimulating and elicited our curiosity.

As physical distancing and other restrictions came in to place due to the Corvid-19 crisis, including stopping visits to care homes, delivery of the participatory workshops has had to end; I have instead spent my time synthesising participants’ artwork and creating the final kit for ROAR. The kit includes the objects, curiosities and creative tools I have found to be most effective and stimulating for people living with dementia. Each item is accompanied with tips and tricks from me and suggested activities. It is my hope that this kit will be available for ROAR members to borrow and take out to your communities to engage someone you may know who is living with dementia.

Marianne Matusz, Lead Artist: Glow