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The Opening Minds through Art program at Rose Villa is more than an arts and crafts program at a senior community.

The Opening Minds through Art program at Rose Villa is more than an arts and crafts program at a senior community. This intergenerational art group for people with dementia is giving Rose Villa's 10 resident artists a professional-quality art experience, and is allowing volunteers to build one-on-one relationships with those artists.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Rose Villa resident Sue Eggling said she looks forward to working on art projects with volunteer Miriam Hanes, as part of the Opening Minds through Art program. The community is invited to see a special exhibit of the residents' artwork at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 9 in the Club Room at Rose Villa.

OMA's origins

OMA was founded in 2007 at the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio by Dr. Elizabeth Lokan, said Melodie Reid, Rose Villa's activities director and volunteer coordinator.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Volunteer Martie Mathews, left, and her artist, a resident at Rose Villa, get ready to work on a new project as part of the Opening Minds through Art program."When she came up with the name, she realized that OMA means grandmother in Spanish," Reid said.

Rose Villa is part of Leading Age, a national association of nonprofit senior housing service. At a national conference, Erin Cornell, director of health services at Rose Villa, saw a presentation about OMA.

"I was impressed with the way it was focused on creating meaningful pieces of art using professional-grade materials," she said. The program is "research-based and has proven benefits for the artists and the volunteers."

Reid attended a four-day training session at Miami University, "which set us up for success," she said.

She in turn led a five-hour training session for the 10 volunteers who wanted to be part of the six-week OMA program sessions at Rose Villa.

"Some have worked with seniors before, some are artists and some are not. We provide all the training," Reid said.

Volunteers help artists develop

Volunteers for the program learned about dementia and were instructed in how to develop relationships with the artists and support their creative efforts using OMA methodology.

People with dementia "still have strengths and abilities," Reid said. OMA "helps the [seniors] develop those strengths."

The first projects that the volunteers introduced to their artists have been tested and proven by the national OMA project-development team, Reid said.

Materials include mixed media, watercolors, acrylics, ink and stamping. A professional-looking mat always frames finished pieces.

The focus is on fine art and more abstract works, and all the projects have to be fun, provide a sense of choice for the artists, and have an element of surprise, Reid said.

Volunteers sit side-by-side with the artists and give meaningful feedback in a sharing session at the end of each meeting.

"Melodie is there as a helper, but it's really about the artist and the volunteer building a relationship," Cornell said.

Advantages for all

SUBMITTED PHOTO - A Rose Villa artist begins a watercolor project, watched over by volunteer Catherine Wiese, an undergraduate at Marylhurst University."Isolation can become an issue [for people with dementia], and this program is an opportunity to overcome that," Reid said. "There is such a benefit for the artists, as they get a dedicated one hour of time with the same volunteer each week."

"It is also a great opportunity for our volunteers as it opens their eyes about dementia. The program is focused on what the artists can do, not just on what people with dementia can do," Reid said.

OMA is "so multifaceted and so different from an arts and crafts program. There is a benefit in mood, it is intergenerational, there is a perspective on aging, and it produces beautiful artwork," Cornell said.

The upcoming art show is "an opportunity for friends and family to purchase a print of the artwork or a mug with the artwork on it. It has the potential to reach so many people in different ways," she said.

Each of the artists will choose two pieces for display, and all proceeds from the sale of the artwork will go back into future classes.

Rose Villa will host more OMA sessions in January. "We are hoping to expand OMA to all residents who have an interest," Reid said.

Community members can sign up for any class at Rose Villa. Reid recommends people contact her about upcoming sessions.

Mutual benefits

Oregon City resident Martie Mathews is one of the volunteers and she recommends the OMA program to others as a "mutual benefit to the artists and the volunteers."

She came to the program because she "thought the whole concept of opening minds to art seemed like a very soothing way of exposing residents to communication, and it didn't sound intimidating."

During training, she said she "got an overview of dementia and what to be aware of with residents who have different levels of dementia."

She added: "We need to be aware and have a sensitivity about timing. It's about being patient with the resident who is trying a new experience."

Silence is also important, Mathews said, in that "we need to be comfortable with being silent if that is what the resident needs."

One handout that was helpful to her in the training was called "I'm Still Here," and Mathews said she saw that come to life with her artist, as they began their journey together.

"At first she expressed that she was intimidated by participating; she was tense about the unknown of the program," Mathews said.

But by the second session her artist smiled when she realized that the pair was going to have fun again.

"I learned her pace and realized she was so detail-oriented; she is very precise and intricate. She sees minute details, and I was amazed seeing the piece through her eyes," Mathews said.

She added, "She's a precious woman, and I look forward to seeing her on Mondays."

Intergenerational program

At 26, Catherine Wiese is among the youngest of the volunteers; she is an undergraduate at Marylhurst University, studying psychology.

"I've been a caregiver for in-home seniors and discovered a passion for connecting with them. I have a little bit of art and loved the concept of establishing a relationship with a senior through art," she said.

"I like how art opens up something you didn't see otherwise. It is easy to categorize people, but [this program] has opened my eyes, and I've seen that in other volunteers as well," Wiese said.

She has taken great pleasure in working with her artist and said he has incorporated his past life into his art. The experience also has opened up "poetry within him."

She noted, "I've been very excited to come in and see what we do next; see where the creativity goes. It's a magical experience."

Wiese said she has seen a "generational wall between people her age and seniors, and [this program] creates a bridge that makes it an easy avenue to connect."


Sue Eggling is one of the resident artists in the program. She says she looks forward to each session and being "able to play."

She likes having the opportunity to paint and produces "whimsy pieces" in which "waves make nice shapes."

"I've seen a side to her that wasn't there before," said her husband, Ed Eggling.

[In the past] "Her work was very precise, and to see something more abstract from her was something I had not experienced," he said.

He added, "She looks forward to [every session] and enjoys talking about it afterward."

Experience art

What: Rose Villa will host an art exhibit displaying the work of residents who are part of the Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program; all are welcome to attend.

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9

Where: The Club Room at Rose Villa, 13505 S.E. River Road, in Milwaukie

More: Call 503-654-3171 for more information about the OMA program or other classes at Rose Villa.

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