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Creating a Dementia Utopia

Dementia and Imagination are holding three events as part of the Utopia 2016 festival, during April and May.

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There is an inherent tension in the idea of a Dementia Utopia that we hope our events will explore: if we consider Utopia as an ideal then the Dementia Utopia is ultimately doomed, as we would inevitably imagine a place without illness. Whilst for many dementia is a debilitating and awful condition, there are stories of people finding their voice and ability to laugh, experiencing new activities and achieving things they might not have gone on to do before. If we take our version of reality, where Dementia is an everyday reality for approximately 850’000 people in the UK, we began to wonder how we might support people to be as independent as possible and to participate in the communities within which they live. This might include technologies to make people’s lives easier, changing attitudes towards the condition, and helping to foster connections.

The first of our three local events was titled Dementia Utopia: a creative exploration imagining our Dementia Supportive Communities and brought together year 5 and 6 school children to collaborate in art making with people living with dementia in North Wales. The school children took part in dementia friend’s awareness sessions before the workshops so that they could learn more about the condition.

Two half day workshops on Thursday 14th April and Monday 25th April took place in two different community venues: Ty Newydd in the coastal town of Rhyl and in the rural town of Ruthin at the Ruthin Craft Centre

 

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Artist Lisa Carter helped to shape the creation of an installation called ‘Eloquent Brain, Utopian Connected Communities’, which is a collaborative interactive drawing consisting of drawings on envelopes, blank envelopes, wedges and floorboards. The work is monochromatic and changes and grows as people alter the composition or add their own envelope drawings to either the ‘filing’ along the right hand side of the work or the gaps in the floorboard.

The two groups brought together in the workshops took part in collaborative drawing with gentle prompts to respond to the idea of what a dementia utopia might be and might look like. The only instruction was that they couldn’t use words but should draw instead. We thought about the idea of Utopia as a no-place which then enables complete freedom to imagine anything which led us to ask: ‘What colours, textures, sights and sounds would you like to see and hear in this place?’, ‘What are your dreams and what do you believe in?, ‘what does feeling old feel like?’ and ‘what is a connected community?’, ‘do you feel connected?’

The sessions were lively and fun, as they created a growing canvas of images of their ideals for a Dementia Utopia. We also asked the groups to respond at the end of the session to two prompts: ‘Dementia is…’ and ‘Art can…’. A lot of discussion centred on dementia is ‘a nuisance’ ‘a pain in the arse’ wrote one of the adult group members, but sensing that art could help provide a space to get away from it for a while, to meet new people, and have a try at something new. As one person wrote, art can ‘keep the imagination flowing’.

Both workshops were recorded by a filmmaker and that piece of work is now being edited ready to show at Somerset House in June as part of a Dementia Utopia Café, where people can try out a menu of arts activities and have a go at something new, contributing to our growing ideas on dementia, utopia and what it might mean for our communities.

 

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