Warhol involves patients in art world

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The Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Andy Warhol Museum have collaborated on two small programs for people with Alzheimer's disease.

For the first, they co-hosted an artist-in-residence, Jose Rufino from Brazil. He uses documents as his canvases, and he got documents from two patients, who visited his studio with their caregivers and also did artwork. According to center education coordinator MaryAnn Oakley, Mr. Rufino also visited the home of one of the patients to get a better understanding of the papers.

"[Mr. Rufino] was someone whose previous work has focused on people's memories lost in a different context, due to a civil war in Brazil," said Jennifer Lingler, director of Education and Information Core at the center. "He was looking for a different population. He looks at his art as having a healing component and tries to sustain memories through his art."

The center worked with Mr. Rufino, and patients and center researchers donated documents. He had an exhibit at the Warhol this spring.

"That was the beginning of the relationship between the Warhol and the research center," Dr. Lingler said. Museum participants include Tresa Varner and Jessica Gogan, respectively director and assistant director for education and interpretation. "[They] were genuinely interested in reaching out to individuals affected by Alzheimer's disease, so this partnership was formed to offer small-group activities at the Warhol for patients and families," Dr. Lingler added.

The second program, which continues, involves early-stage patients going with a caretaker or family member to the Warhol for two hours for a guided tour with inquiry-based discussion of four artworks followed by art-making in a studio. Four patients signed up but each time only two twosomes were able to attend sessions held on Aug. 18 and Oct. 20. The patients made canvas tote bags with images of Andy Warhol on them.

Additional sessions are scheduled for March and April.

Though the work is too early for conclusions, Dr. Lingler has noticed similarities to published studies showing the positive effects art activities can have for people with Alzheimer's.

"I went to the first small group session, and my observations were that the individuals who attended were highly attentive and participatory, both the patients and the family members," she said.

"Afterwards, as everyone was waiting for the totes to finish drying, I started to debrief them and what came out was the participants viewed it as opportunity to maintain a sense of belonging in society and community. One of the couples talked about feeling excluded from activities in peer groups, so it was positive for that way."

For more information about the program, call 412-692-2700 and ask for Ms. Oakley.

Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.


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