On Tuesday, April 19, the Florentine Opera was honored to present a performance in the European Village at the Milwaukee Public Museum as part of SPARK!, a cultural program for caregivers and loved ones suffering from beginning to mid-stage Alzheimr’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Dawn Koceja, EC Coordinator/SPARK! Coordinator & Professional Development Facilitator with the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Education Department was kind enough to sit down and tell us a bit more about the program and its impact on the participants.
1. Can you tell us about how the SPARK! Program became an offering at the Milwaukee Public Museum?
In 2009, the Helen Bader Foundation sent all Wisconsin museums a Request for Proposal to create programs for people with early to mid-stages of memory loss. They had supported the “Meet Me at MoMA” memory loss program held at the Museum of Modern Art in NY and were interested in bringing the model to Wisconsin. We applied, and were one of 5 museums to receive the initial planning grant which covered expenses for training and piloting the new program. After creating SPARK!, MPM then applied for the Implementation Grant which we received funding to continue the program for two years. Even after funding runs out, MPM will continue to run the SPARK! program. It is a special program that meets our goals of providing quality programs to all audiences.
2. Tell our readers a bit about the SPARK! Program. What are elements that make it especially effective, or unique?
The SPARK! program at the Milwaukee Public Museum is an interactive program that takes place in our exhibit halls. Each month a new exhibit is highlighted, we discuss what we see, learn about new cultures and explore artifacts and objects from the region. We focus on enjoying the moment and not as much on reminiscence. By using a multi-sensory approach, we stimulate conversations and share thoughts and ideas in a comfortable, social experience. Following the hour in the exhibit, we relax and enjoy a 30-minute coffee/tea time to continue the conversations and socialization. This is a time for families to connect and support one another and create new friendships.
3. What types of programming will you offer for your participants throughout the year?
Programs are held on the 3rd Sunday of each month at 11am and repeated again at 2pm. Several Tuesday programs are offered in collaboration with our community partners, the Florentine Opera Company, the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and local artists. Dates are available online. Registration is required as programs are limited to 15 participants (To register, call 414-278-2714).
4. Museum educators undergo special training to lead SPARK! programming. Can you tell us a bit about what this entails on their part?
As the SPARK Coordinator, I had the privilege of attending several trainings in New York. I worked closely with the staff at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Folk Art Museum. I have also had intensive training with the Alzheimer’s Association and have attended and presented at several conferences. The training doesn’t stop there. I have the SE Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Association come to MPM to conduct trainings bi-annually for all of the Museum staff. Everyone from our security staff, to reservationists to the visitor assistance have all received training on working with people with memory loss. Training is also made available to our community partners. It is important that we provide a safe and comfortable experience for all our SPARK! visitors.
5. How have the programs been received so far?
We kicked off our SPARK! program in September, 2010. Since then, we have had a great response. We have served over 100 people and the program continues to grow. The funding for the program is specific for people with beginning to mid-stage memory loss and their at-home caregivers, not group visits. We will continue to review the opportunities to someday offer SPARK! to adult-day groups or groups from other facilities. For now, we don’t have the resources to do so. The community partner programs have been very exciting! To witness the energy and emotion during a performance is a moment that loved ones cherish.
April marked the first program with the Florentine Opera Company and the responses were astonishing! One participant didn’t want to leave at the end of the program, obviously thrilled with the experience. Another caregiver displayed her enjoyment by wrapping her arm around her loved one as they hummed along to a familiar song. The partnership with the Opera is one we are very proud of. It was a very moving day for the SPARK! volunteers, participants and performers.