For anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, you know all too well the literal, emotional, and metaphorical purge that takes place in the days, weeks, and even years to come. What items do we keep? Which memories do I treasure? Which moments do I need to hang on to? How do I decide what matters?
As time passes, this can become even more difficult. I have even feared sometimes that, like sand, the tighter I hold on, the faster something might slip away. What if all of it matters?
I have the unique distinction of having held two of my children as they passed away. That’s a long story for another time and place – but for now, here’s what I know in deciding what memories are precious, which items I hold dear, and which mementos have remained special. Even after 6+ years, some of my most treasured possessions are their art.
I love seeing their chubby handprints painted yellow in the form of a butterfly wishing me a “Happy Mother’s Day” from their preschool.
A merry little globe displays a thumbprint reindeer. It’s a lovely ornament I celebrate every time I open it. It hangs proudly on our tree every year.
And this little panda, which Landon and I painted together hand over hand - I can still feel him. The softness of his hand contrasted with the coolness of the paint we undoubtedly got all over our fingers. In fact, if I close my eyes, it even still smells like a combination of his shampoo, paint, and maybe even a salty tear.
Art is powerful. Art takes us places. For me, art transcends pain and grief and packages that heartache into a joyful memory - A memory that even if only for a moment, helps me fully remember, not just in gray but in color. A memory I can touch, from a moment that matters.
Art positively impacts the brain in several ways. For example, it can reduce stress, increase emotional regulation and self-awareness, and improve cognitive function, such as memory and attention. Engaging with art can also stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, motivation, and reward, and also increase the activity in brain regions associated with empathy and understanding of others.
When I pause while creating, I find that I contemplate my subject in a deeper, more satisfying way. I was recently working on a painting of flowers using new, metallic watercolors. While stepping back to look at the piece, I realized that the flowers I painted do not exist. They existed only in my brain. And my brain felt happy!
Creating art can have therapeutic benefits, such as self-expression and emotional release.
Art is used in many different ways in daily life. Some examples include:
Yes, art is indeed everywhere in our daily lives. It can be found in many forms and mediums, from traditional art forms, such as painting and sculpture, to more modern forms, such as digital and street art. It can be found in museums and galleries, but also in public spaces, advertising, and even on social media.
Art is in our lives every day. Art is also present in objects and architecture, in product design, fashion and graphic design, it's in the music we listen to, the books we read, the movies and TV shows we watch.
Additionally, art can be found in the way we express ourselves and communicate with others, whether through verbal language, body language, or other forms of self-expression. Even our daily routines can be seen as a form of performance art.
As a freelance marketing lady, I am lucky to be able to create art every day! My brain would be very, very different were it not for artmaking!
Art therapy is about more than creating art. For veterans, it’s a form of communication that allows them to express their emotions and work through their trauma.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is the use of artwork to “explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” By allowing veterans to express their emotions, trauma, and experiences without words, individuals are able to share themselves more easily and work towards reconciling those things that weigh heavily on them.
In addition, therapeutic art, which does not focus on psychological processes, works to recover motor skills, other physical health issues, and cognitive functioning in a non-threatening, relaxing environment. Gripping a paintbrush, standing or sitting upright while artmaking, and molding clay are all excellent ways to strengthen a body while enjoying an activity. Naming subject matter, titling artwork, and experiencing a dopamine rush by the act of artmaking and looking at colors, are all examples of ways art exercises the brain. Someone who is motivated to move (especially by a fun, engaging activity), is more likely to continue moving and grow stronger.
Below, veteran, Justin finishes a painting with Awakening Minds Art during a therapeutic art session.
In some areas, The Department of Veteran Affairs provides free therapeutic arts and crafts kits to hospitalized and homebound veterans. “The creative arts program helps injured, and recuperating veterans improve fine motor skills, cognitive functioning, manage stress and substance abuse, cope with symptoms of PTSD and TBI, while also improving their sense of self-esteem and overall physical and mental health. Creative arts therapies are part of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Recreation Therapy Service and are direct-care programs that include the following disciplines: Art Therapy, Dance/Movement Therapy, Drama Therapy, and Music Therapy.” – VA.GOV
Many veterans and families are finding the great benefits of art as they navigate through their own challenges. Art may even offer them a sense of joy!
With our aging population doubling by 2050 (according to US Census data) from 1 billion in 2020 to 2.1 billion nationwide, Ohio is not left out of those numbers. By 2030 elder Ohioans will account for more than a quarter of our population. Those of you who are reading this: will you be considered part of the aging population as 65 or older by 2030; how about by 2050? What’s this mean for you?
Neuroscience and psychology research says that as we continue to age and our personalities change and adapt, we have a harder time with our cognitive abilities, mental health, cardiovascular health and social skills. That’s a lot to take on as a person, and a lot for a senior living facility to support in every one of its residents. But this is the reality for – perhaps - your parents, grandparents, or YOU within the next couple decades. That’s why quality of life programming within senior living facilities is so vital as an all-encompassing tool to help the aging population transition into and through the next stages of life.
For more information about the therapeutic art AMA offers and the ways it affects quality of life within senior living facilities, read more here.
Awakening Minds Art is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. If you’re interested in supporting AMA with a financial gift, you are invited to donate to the Fundraising & Awareness Campaign which recognizes the positive benefits of AMA programming within senior living, nursing, and memory care facilities. Your generosity enhances these therapeutic and educational programs, and others!
The visual arts build a community of individuals who are stronger, happier, and more equipped to participate in a meaningful way within that community.
DEVELOP, LEARN, SUSTAIN
Regardless of age or ability, art affects the way we learn, develop, and sustain skills over a lifetime. Eric Jensen, a PhD in human development, writes in his book Arts with the Brain in Mind, “The systems [the arts] nourish, including our integrated sensory, attentional, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, are, in fact, the driving forces behind all other learning.”
Re-read those systems. Art education nourishes every aspect of your humanity, and in doing so, drives the way we learn (and continue to learn)!
In education, the push towards STEM activities is to promote innovation in the minds of our youth, but the lack of design thinking and creativity is a significant oversight. The pivot to STEAM, adding art to the equation, gives learners a better balance for putting those science, technology, engineering, and mathematics facts to use.
All successful career fields require “flexibility, adaptability, productivity, responsibility, and innovation.” Art, through creative thinking and imagination, enhances these skills and develops a strong base for learning other disciplines. (Sprout)
ART IN EDUCATION
In an image-saturated world, doesn’t it make sense to teach our children visual skills?
“With the arts, children learn to see,” said Eisner, Professor Emeritus of Child Education at Stanford University. “We want our children to have basic skills. But they also will need sophisticated cognition, and they can learn that through the visual arts.” What a profound, eloquent, and concise quote. Truly being able to “see,” means an understanding of things we may not be able to put into words. Observing, envisioning, innovating, and reflecting develop intelligence related to any possible life-path one chooses.
All these are boosted when students are allowed to explore the visual arts! Art is also a perfect way for students to learn the value of diverse perspectives and different cultures.
At Awakening Minds Art, it is our mission to bring the educational benefits of the visual arts to all ages, not just school-aged children. It is important to note, that continued education is vital as we grow. It is also vital that as our physical and mental functions diminish as we age, fun, challenging activities (like art), help to sustain those developmental skills we learned as children.
WONDER AND AWE AFFECT THE BRAIN
Beauty, curiosity, and visual arts often all go hand-in-hand. Professor, Semir Zeki, chair in neurasthenics at University College London, conducted an experiment “to see what happens in the brain when you look at beautiful paintings.” He found that “there is strong activity in that part of the brain related to pleasure.” Brain scans while observing different paintings by well-known artists gave proof to this conclusion. The more beautiful a participant found an artwork to be, the more blood flow increased in a particular part of the brain. “Blood flow increased by as much as 10%, which is the equivalent to gazing at a loved one.”
In other words, thinking about moving motivates us to move—and to keep moving! The use of color, pleasing images, and (in the case of AMA art classes), an encouraging instructor, all inspire a student to move, which in turn, keeps them working, keeps them attentive, and keeps them happy.
Creating and looking at art is beneficial to everyone, no matter your age or ability, but for those who are aging or those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, art affects parts of the brain that most need exercising. Through picture-looking, people can reminisce and reflect on their lives. Creating art, especially with others, enhances:
Read more about how arts affect those with Alzheimer's and dementia here.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELLBEING THROUGH THE ARTS
Physically, therapeutic art is a great way to work on developing or sustaining motor skills and core strength. Similar to occupational therapy, therapeutic art can be used to enhance every-day skills. You can find more information on therapeutic art here.
ART REDUCES STRESS
According to Heather L. Stuckey, DEd and Jeremy Nobel, MD in their research publication, “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature” found on the U.S. National Institute of Health’s website, “Engagement with creative activities has the potential to contribute toward reducing stress and depression and can serve as a vehicle for alleviating the burden of chronic disease.” They also stated, “Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing. The more we understand the relationship between creative expression and healing, the more we will discover the healing power of the arts.”
If you’d like to support Awakening Minds Art and the important therapeutic and educational visual arts programming we offer, please consider a gift to our annual giving fund here
Phillips, Renee. "Art Enhances Brain Function and Well-Being." The Healing Power of Art & Artists, 1 May 2022, https://www.healing-power-of-art.org/art-and-the-brain/. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.
Sprout School Supplies. "STEAM - The Importance of Art in STEM Education." Sprout School Supplies, 28 May 2019, sproutsupplies.com/blog/steam-the-importance-of-art-in-stem-education/. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.
"Learning in a Visual Age:The Critical Importance of Visual Arts Education." National Art Education Association (NAEA), 1 Jan. 2016, https://www.arteducators.org/advocacy-policy/learning-in-a-visual-age. Accessed 19 Jan. 2023.
“I am so excited and honored to have the opportunity of becoming AMA’s next executive director!" says Sullivan. "I’ve experienced the extraordinary power of art, and it’s been truly amazing to see others discover the joy, confidence, and potential that comes with Awakening Minds Art classes. I look forward to my roles of leading our talented team of instructors, ensuring AMA is a devoted part of this community, and advocating for the success of our students of all ages and abilities.”
As executive director, Sullivan will manage the day-to-day activities of the organization as well as manage the instructors, volunteers, cultivate relationships in the community, and report directly to the board of directors who have recently established a strategic plan for 2023. Sullivan’s position as executive director is instrumental in executing the new strategic plan, and the board of directors is confident in her decision-making and skillset to complete the tasks at hand.
The position of executive director has been left vacant after the complete staff layoff during the pandemic in early 2020. The board of directors, including Crisp-Ricker, has been running the organization at a volunteer level while slowly adding administration hours to Sullivan’s workload. With programming nearly back to full capacity and additional instructors hired, the board felt it was time to bring the executive director position back. Sullivan’s commitment through the years and her previous role with the organization makes her the perfect fit for the job.
“There isn’t a better fit for this position, and I’m excited to see where Emily can take this organization!" says Sarah Crisp-Ricker, founder and former Executive Director, now current board Vice-President. "Her fresh ideas, dedication, and passion for the organization has me feeling confident in the success of the organization. I will continue to serve as Vice-President of the board and work closely with Emily during her transition and beyond. Emily and I have always made a great team, and this organization is lucky to have her!”
Join us in congratulating Emily by emailing Emily@awakeningmindsart.org
Many nonprofits use this date to kick start an entire season of giving called an End of Year Campaign (EOY). Afterall, the end of year is critical for nonprofits to reach their financial goals and set their mission-driven organizations up for success in the following year.
Awakening Minds Art looks towards the future for this 2022 campaign, and we are excited to share the details with you! We’ve decided to start the “AMA Future Fund.”
In 2020, our entire organization shut down and all of our staff was laid off due to the pandemic. This year, after a scary couple years, we’ve been fortunate to find ourselves in a confident position, asking ourselves, “what’s the next responsible step forward for the organization?”
The answer seemed clear. Learn from the past.
We’ve learned the importance of having an emergency fund that can help the organization stay afloat during emergencies. We’ve learned from 2020, and we are ready to implement a more sustainable, responsible future for our organization.
Gifts given up until the New Year will go towards this AMA Future Fund (unless otherwise specified). Our starting goal is $3,000, and we will continue to make new goals annually for building the reserve.
This new fund is an important step for the long-term success of Awakening Minds Art. Having the flexibility to prioritize the future safety and well-being of our staff and students no matter what the circumstances, makes AMA programming stronger NOW.
Please consider a donation in support of the AMA Future Fund!
Awakening Minds Art is a resilient organization that our community has spoken loudly in support of. To watch our documentary video, click here!
In addition to regularly scheduled programs, we are asked by schools, daycares, businesses, and private parties to set up group classes
TWO new board members were welcomed this year, Amber Kear and Katie Unverferth!
Board members include President Tony Morman, Vice President & founder Sarah Crisp-Ricker, Treasurer Chris Scherley, Secretary Tamera Rooney, Melody Rinker, Bre Berger, Kyle Frias, Amber Kear, and Katie Unverferth.
We are continuing to settle into our space at 1640 Tiffin Ave, Findlay
The AMA Community Mural Project wraps up with 10 murals around Findlay made by various local artists and funded through the Marianna Hofer Endowment
We held two fundraising events this year including a golf outing at Moose Landing Country Club in Ottawa and The 12th Annual Art Auction with Dueling Pianos. Both events were SOLD OUT, and we were so excited to bring the Art Auction back in-person this year!
Each Monday, we hold a Queen of Hearts drawing at the Fern Café in Findlay. This event is loads of fun and DJ Will keeps us entertained leading up to each drawing. Not sure what a Queen of Hearts drawing is? Read more about it here!
2022 Program sponsors included Ohio Logistics and Blanchard Valley Pediatric Dentistry, Kyle D. Amspaugh, DDS, MS. THANK YOU for supporting our students!
THANK YOU to all those who have donated to AMA so far this year (and every year). Your support helps strengthen our organization to give our families the support they need to grow through art.
19 Pieces of artwork were up for bid for this sold-out event. Every AMAzing piece there was made by students in Awakening Minds Art programming, and many of the students enjoy coming to show off their work every year. This year, 15 students were in attendance to walk their artwork around the room with an instructor during auction.
What is a Mission Auction? During a mission auction, the auctioneer announces levels of support, and individuals raise their auction paddles to indicate their pledge at that announced level. “Who is willing to donate $1,000 tonight?” and paddles go up!
The dinner sponsor for the event was Kris & Jennifer Hagedorn. Dinner was a delicious salmon, brisket, asparagus and smashed potatoes. For dessert, attendees enjoyed a yummy carrot cake!
Sponsors make the event possible; the attendees bring the energy! Sponsors included Ohio Logistics, Premier Bank, Burkett Restaurant Equipment & Supply, Blanchard Valley Pediatric Dentistry, Lauck Auto, Doty Dental, First National Bank of Pandora, Judy Mitchell Brennen, McComb Family Dental, LaRiche Chevrolet, Shear Vanity Salon, The Bourbon Affair, and Patrick & Brigette Sadowski. Photography by Sarah Moyer Photography. To attend the event, the cost was $500/table or $60 for general admission.
The date is booked for the 2023, 13th Annual Awakening Minds Art Auction!
SAVE THE DATE! October 14th, 2023 at the Hilton Garden Inn, Findlay, Ohio!
If you are interested in sponsoring this event, please email founder and board vice-president, Sarah Ricker, at firstname.lastname@example.org
People with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia experience memory loss and a progressive loss of cognitive abilities affecting all aspects of their lives. As an Awakening Minds Art instructor, I’ve painted with many residents in memory care facilities, and I can honestly say that a picture is worth much more than just a thousand words.
How does art affect the brain?
Creating and looking at art is beneficial to everyone, no matter your age or ability, but for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, art affects parts of the brain that most need exercising. Through picture-looking, people can reminisce and reflect on their lives. Creating art, especially with others, enhances well-being, social participation, language retrieval, and opportunities for self-expression and self-purpose.
What does Dopamine do for the brain?
In my own experience working in senior living facilities and memory care units, residents paint using detailed brushwork and long, sweeping brushstrokes to not only exercise fine and gross motor skills (improving muscle memory and function) but also to boost their brain’s ability to produce dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain which provides feelings of pleasure and reinforces the motivation to move, learn, and focus. It is produced by the thought of movement. In other words, thinking about moving motivates us to move—and to keep moving! The use of color, pleasing images, and an encouraging instructor all inspire a resident to move, which in turn, keeps them working, keeps them attentive, and keeps them happy.
Creativity lives on!
According to Barbara Bagan, PhD, ATR-BC, “Neurological research shows that making art can improve cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites…Making art or even viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt, and restructure, thus expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.” This is true for everyone, no matter your age or ability.
Although the brain will unavoidably age, creativity doesn’t necessarily have to. Behavioral neurologist, Bruce Miller, MD, believes “the aging brain responds well to art by allowing the brain’s two hemispheres to work more in tandem. This ability to use one’s creativity throughout a lifetime and the impact of crystallized intelligence gained from the years of accumulated knowledge and life experiences, help to cultivate the aging, creative brain.”
To keep those two hemispheres of the brain communicating, as Miller mentions, I have my painters cross the midline while they’re filling in the background of a picture. This means, we use long, sweeping brushstrokes that cross from the left side to the right, and right back to the left (of the paper AND the body). This keeps both sides of the body working together, promoting coordination and communication with left and right hemispheres of the brain.
Art triggers memories
In John Ziesel’s book, I’m Still Here (2009), he argues that “Alzheimer’s does not take away memory, rather it is the part of the brain that gives you access to the memory that is damaged.” Art helps activate the brain and open doors Alzheimer’s seemingly closed. As Zeisel writes, “It’s as if you put the memories in the glove compartment and lost the key, and art unlocked it” (Zeisel, as cited in Hathorn, 2013).
Whoa…I love that quote. I can’t tell you how many times someone who seems totally bewildered, totally lost, totally incapable, suddenly is speaking paragraphs about their life in childhood or younger adulthood after or during an art class. I’ve had family members present who are absolutely baffled by the sudden clarity; I remember one saying, “YES, Dad! Everything he just told you is totally true! I can’t believe he just told you all that.”
Here's the thing, Alzheimer’s is not a curable disease. The people I work with are not going to be cured by art, and frankly, I don’t see the residents often enough to know how far my endeavors reach beyond the hour session, but the stacks of qualitative evidence that I have in my brain could write books to support how absolutely magical artmaking and art-looking is. I will end this post with a few of my favorite stories from my experiences.
I’d seen Dorothy shuffling through the halls many times, talking to people only she could see. It was months before I had the chance to paint with her. I helped her into a chair and a nurse skeptically told me she couldn’t see well. I held the painting example close to her and described it. Dorothy’s face lit up. She exclaimed about the blues and purples! Dorothy needed a lot of hand-over-hand attention to complete her painting, but she completed it, and it was hers. For someone who I had never seen interact with other people, she answered my questions, laughed at other people’s comments, and seemed particularly intrigued by the man across from her whistling. Colors and images recalled memories and stories that she shared, and at the end, she was able to title her artwork. The pride and confidence that Dorothy exuded that day carried over to every other person in that painting session!
In another memory care facility, Carol is someone I’d painted with dozens of times, and I’d gotten the chance to notice and learn things about her through our sessions. She is quiet, but extremely positive; she is slow to comprehend, but typically understands and follows through on directions in her own time; and she always adds her own creative twists on some genuinely beautiful paintings.
The last time I worked with her, she was very tired. She fell asleep several times during the session and had trouble following directions. I directed the group to fill in the whole paper’s background with long side-to-side brushstrokes, but Carol focused on one small area and brushed the paint in small swirls. Even as I guided her hand back and forth across the paper, I could tell she was unable or unwilling to make this bilateral motion. Rather than finishing the painting for her, I let her go.
It took Carol almost the entire hour session to finish the background. As other residents finished a clover patch with flowers, Carol looked down at her paper and said, “It looks like a pond!” I responded, “Yes! Should we add some waterlilies to your pond?” She loved the idea! She gave the painting an entire backstory with ducks and waterlilies, and she recalled a memory about a time she visited a pond with ducks. This storytelling was a significant aspect of our painting session. She ended the class feeling proud and accomplished for a painting SHE did all on her own and for the title and backstory that allowed her to be creative and reminiscent.
Occasionally, I have the wonderful opportunity to meet residents’ families and other caregivers. It is fulfilling to know that art not only affects the artists, but also the people closest to them.
I first met Elsie at a memory care unit for Alzheimer’s and dementia. I remember her as a sweet and soft-spoken woman who was excited to paint and energized by her accomplishments. My favorite thing about painting with Elsie was the end of the session when I’d ask her if she liked her painting. Her face would light up, and she’d exclaim, “I think it’s pretty good!” And she’d title her painting something about how beautiful or peaceful or great it was.
Even though Elsie needed a lot of extra help throughout the process, her pride in the finished product was heartwarming and contagious!
Unfortunately, as time went on, Elsie painted with me less and less, and like many people with that awful disease, she was progressively more confused, frustrated, and angry.
One day, while I was there, Elsie chose not to paint, but sat nearby throughout the session. As I was cleaning up afterwards, I noticed her daughter had come to visit. I knew Elsie’s daughters because they’d visited many times in the past, sometimes sitting with her as she painted and giving her genuine praise and using the opportunity to start conversations with their mom.
Now, it just so happened that Elsie had painted during the previous week’s session, and I took her finished piece over to them. I said hello, and said, “Elsie, I wanted to bring this over to show you. This is the painting you did last week. You painted a beautiful beach. Do you love it?” Her eyes lit up as they once regularly did. She said, “Oh, yes!” I said, “I thought you might like to share this painting with your daughter because you named it North Carolina Beach, and you said your family used to vacation there.”
At this point, I said goodbye and walked away. I can only speculate what came next.
But what I know is, Elsie’s family now has another cherished artwork to keep. And I can be pretty sure that Elsie’s daughter complimented her mom, and her mom believed her. That feels good to anyone! Her daughter also had an opportunity to comment on the painting’s colors and brushstrokes and reminisce about past family vacations. Whether they ever went to North Carolina or not—there’s a story there for them to share. Those comments and conversations may have given way to moments of clarity for Elsie.
Art has the ability to provide countless physical and developmental benefits, and it has the ability to open neural pathways in the brain, making us happy and motivating us to move and think and remember! If you’d like to read more about the art I do at Awakening Minds Art, read my first blog post here and visit our website!
 “Understanding Alzheimer’s and dementia.” Alzheimer’s Association. Accessed May 11, 2022. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers
"Dopamine." Psychology Today. Accessed May 07, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/dopamine.
 Bagan, Barbara. “Aging: What's Art Got to Do with It?” Today's Geriatric Medicine, Great Valley Publishing, https://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/news/ex_082809_03.shtml.
 Hathorn, K. (2013). The role of visual art in improving quality-of-life related outcomes ... Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/dbassesite/documents/webpage/dbasse_084192.pdf