Lincoln Center is leading the way in providing artistic experiences for people with dementia and their caregivers, as well as contributing to worldwide research about the positive effect of arts for people in this population. Our third season of Lincoln Center Moments—a program designed especially for this audience—includes twelve performances, each followed by discussion, art, and music-making workshop intended to provide both a creative response to the performance and a social environment for an audience that is often isolated. The spring season began on March 5 in a program featuring Marion Cowings, presented in collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and continues through the end of May.

Our teaching artists, who have each worked on previous Lincoln Center Moments seasons, come from a variety of artistic backgrounds. Emily Bruner, an actor with a master's degree in Educational Theater, works on several programs for adults with dementia, students with developmental disabilities, and literacy-based programs for elementary school students. Nancy Volante brings her experience of a twenty-year career in dance, as well as training in ballet, contemporary, jazz dance, improvisational acting, physical theater, yoga, and composition. Formally trained in design and with a master's degree in Childhood Special and General Education, Naemeh Shirazi began her teaching career as a museum educator and has worked in a range of instructional environments with people of all ages. Linda Cholodenko, a theater and dance teaching artist with Lincoln Center Education, has years of teaching experience, as well as personal experience caring for a loved one with dementia. Finally, Lillie Klein, who is working on completing her master's degree in music therapy this spring, has a background in musical theater.

After initial training from CaringKind and the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine, the team has created innovative, thoughtful, and engaging lesson plans to accompany performances as varied as chamber music, jazz standards, and Shakespearean plays. We asked each of them to reflect on their experiences so far, and what they hope to bring to this season.

What attracted you to this program?

Emily Bruner: After working with Arts & Minds at the New-York Historical Society and seeing firsthand how the visual arts positively affect those with dementia and their caregivers, I was inspired to learn about the therapeutic effects of music and the performing arts. As an artist and educator, it is my mission to use the arts empathetically to build and celebrate the self and community.

Nancy Volante: This program is close to my heart, and I wanted to connect with my personal experience, thus creating a space in my teaching practice to be of service to people with dementia and their caregivers. I am always curious to learn how to facilitate communities so that there is a sense of belonging for everyone. I was also attracted to the idea of building partnerships with social workers, music therapists, accessibility administrators, and fellow teaching artists.

Naemeh Shirazi: First, it presented a wonderful opportunity to work with a new audience and apply some of the research that I had been conducting on how to design museum-based programming for people with dementia and their caregivers. Second, it seemed like a well-supported and structured environment in which to grow as an educator; the LC program administrators were very thoughtful about how each component of this complex program (performers, teaching artists, music therapists, participants) might contribute to the process! Third, and definitely not least, I was excited to explore how the performing arts could be used to build community.

Linda Cholodenko: This is a labor of love for me. My mom had dementia. So I was at a teaching artist training, and we had an assignment: "Where do you see yourself going, in a leadership role as a TA?" This was less than a year after my mom passed, and this idea came to me, to serve this community. That opened the door to research, and tons of readings. I started attending workshops for the aging, and now here I am. Beautiful timing.

Lillie Klein: I began working with Lincoln Center Moments, during my 2017 clinical internship at The Louis Armstrong Center for Music & Medicine at Mount Sinai Healthcare System, and I am delighted to remain on with the project. I believe the program is a beautiful collaboration of various creative arts and therapeutic fields working together to provide the optimal experience for the participants and their caregivers.

"There was warmth, hugs, and human contact, and the individuals with dementia felt that they were seen."

Has working with people with dementia changed your perspective on dementia?

NS: I now realize that working with people with dementia is very similar to facilitating programs for other groups. The basic principles of maintaining mutual respect for one another, as well as assessing what seems to interest them most and providing accommodations accordingly, can establish a strong foundation for engagement.

LC: I already had a personal connection to this disease, but what did change for me was the realization that the arts can open the door for happiness in this population. That music and movement can bring back memories and give joy to caregivers and their loved ones. That families don't have to feel so alone and isolated, which happens in many cases. The arts give people hope and peace.

Have you noticed any effects on the audience over the course of these six programs?

NV: The whole group created art pieces and told stories about them. They used their imagination beautifully. One woman who doesn't talk very much and who needs a lot of care participated in composing a song—she was the soloist and we were the chorus. Her daughters were filled with joy. A 98-year-old woman who was a former visual artist picked out her colored pencil with focus and intention and began to draw again. Another woman told a story about a collage that she made out of pieces of cloth—it was about two people that couldn't get together. A man sang a whole song (improvised) about the place he was born.

LC: I have noticed great effects on guests. This past fall, I started to have regulars in my workshops. Not only were they seeing me again, but they recognized other returning guests. There was warmth, hugs, and human contact, and the individuals with dementia felt that they were seen. They were a part of something, they mattered, and they had a voice.

Where do you think this field is going? What hopes do you have about the future of the project?

EB: As our understanding of dementia deepens, I believe the role of art is going to become more and more important. I've witnessed firsthand how music and visual art triggers a sense of happiness and connectivity. I sincerely hope that Moments and programs like it continue to serve people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as well as their family and caregivers.

NS: As our population continues to age, I hope that the LC Moments program is able to serve as a model for other performing arts institutions that wish to provide people with dementia and their caregivers with opportunities to explore their creativity and to form new relationships through the arts. My long-term vision for the LC Moments program would be for it to include an option to join a performing arts group comprised of dancers, singers, actors, and artists with dementia and their caregivers who might present their own semi-annual or annual performance.

LK: I hope this program allows other institutions to recognize how music and art play a dynamic role in one's quality of life and care.

To learn more,  find upcoming programs, or contribute to this program, visit Lincoln Center Moments or contact Accessibility at Lincoln Center by email ([email protected]) or phone (212-875-5375).

Alison Mahoney is Manager and Katie Fanning is a former Coordinator of Guest Services & Accessibility at Lincoln Center.