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A new Rx for healing: A Dose of Art-Creative Aging opens at The Phillips Collection
Joan B. Habib’s untitled watercolor responds to Vincent van Gogh’s The Road Menders (1889) in The Phillips Collection. Photo: James R. Brantley.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Phillips Collection has forged an innovative partnership with the District’s award-winning Iona’s Wellness & Arts Center to improve the lives of people with memory impairment and physical challenges. Original artwork created by these individuals is featured in Creative Aging, a new exhibition on view at the Phillips during National Arts and Health Month, Nov. 1–30, 2012.

Offering an unorthodox mix of museum education and art therapy, the program invites older adults, along with their families and caregivers, to enter the world of Renoir, van Gogh, Picasso, and others, and then return to Iona where they use the creative process of making art to enhance their emotional, mental, and physical well-being. In recent years, a wealth of scientific research has shown the powerful effects that interaction with the arts has on health, healing, and rehabilitation. For individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementia in particular, studies point to the ways art can ease the devastating symptoms and lessen the anxiety, agitation, and apathy associated with the disease.

Over the last year, 30 individuals and 10 family members or caregivers participated in a pilot program at the Phillips and Iona. Sessions take place monthly, alternating between the museum’s galleries and Iona so that individuals with a range of mobility can participate. Using the artwork as visual stimulus, individuals engage in conversations with museum education professionals and each other that help trigger thoughts and feelings, inspiring them to make connections and access personal experiences and long-term memories.

While other museum programs for older adults include guided looking in the galleries with a museum educator, the Phillips and Iona program goes a step further by integrating the expertise of a certified art therapist both in the galleries and in hands-on work in an art therapy studio. At Iona, individuals create artworks that reflect and develop themes identified during the conversations at the Phillips. The artwork each individual creates becomes a tangible and personal memento of the entire process, and in many cases a point of pride.

“The relationship between art, health, and wellness resonates deeply with the museum, as founder Duncan Phillips understood the healing power of art,” says Dorothy Kosinski, director of The Phillips Collection. “The sudden deaths of both his father and his brother caused him to turn his collection into a beneficent force in the community. Our partnership with Iona is an important manifestation of his original vision as it helps to create a brighter landscape for those navigating chronic health challenges.”

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