Those who love art believe it lives inside us all, making everyone an artist at heart. Believing that creating something imperfectly perfect is an experience that anyone, at any age, should engage in, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute (MWPAI) provides unconventional and collaborative art opportunities for all.

MWPAI has served the greater Utica region for nearly a century, offering a renowned permanent collection, special exhibitions and educational programs. It has also committed to enhancing artistic appreciation and understanding for a special population in the area—seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other memory impairments.

What started out as the “Meet Me at MWP” program for groups of local seniors to visit the museum for private tours has branched out to include a more interactive component called the Meet Me + Make program.

Meet Me + Make is an off-site program that takes place at local rehabilitation and nursing facilities. MWPAI staff take their tools and knowledge to the residents so they can learn and create their own masterpieces. Projects include collage-making, clay sculpting, pastel drawing, and watercolor painting, spanning a wide gamut of artmaking disciplines so that there’s a little something for everyone.

“Since we have this amazing program where they can come to the museum and look at the art, we wanted them to be able to make some artwork for themselves,” said Amy Francisco, museum educator for docent and tour programs at MWPAI. “We started the program out of this desire to give them that satisfaction and that joy that comes from creative making.”

The idea for the Meet Me at MWP program came in 2016 from Alpine Rehabilitation Center in Little Falls, which wanted to expand the impact and reach of its resident art-making programs. As a participant in both programs, Alpine has seen noticeable improvement in the well-being of its residents, both in going to the museum to enjoy looking at art, and having the opportunity to create their own art.

“These activities have been so beneficial, giving our residents a chance to express themselves freely, to give their opinion, and really have fun with it and try something new,” said DeAndra Macri, Alpine’s activities director. “This is a great bonding experience. We’ve had some residents that really refused to participate, but once they saw the interaction and how people were having fun, they just gravitated towards the program and had a good time—it was wonderful to see.”

To assist with the expansion of both programs, the Mele Family Fund, an avid supporter of projects involving seniors, awarded MWPAI $10,000 in 2019.

“There is no way we could have offered these programs without support from the Mele family,” said Francisco. “The art supplies, the lesson development, every aspect is supported through those funds.”

With the success of the Meet Me + Make program, MWPAI has been looking at other possibilities. In the future, the program could expand to places like Upstate Cerebral Palsy, The House of the Good Shepherd or anywhere that people could benefit.

“To have this outlet and creative reinforcement where people can talk about something and participate in their art-making program—that activity and that feeling reinforces their self-esteem and sense-of self,” says April Oswald, museum education director at MWPAI. “It has been a revelation for all of us, and we appreciate the ability to make a great impact with this opportunity.”

Art and learning go hand in hand. At any age, it’s important to keep learning and creativity alive. MWPAI’s art-making programs are doing just that for those who can benefit from it most, giving them a sense of purpose and a creative outlet, all while reinforcing its mission to advance the appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of the arts in the community.

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