Luke McTaggart - a young artist reflects
Over the past several months I have been student intern at the Dry Water Arts Centre, also known as Amble’s Make. Move and Meeting place. Visitors may have noticed me working away quietly (sometimes loudly!) in the studio or helping to facilitate the various groups and activities.
I approached the Dry Water Arts team this summer with a view to doing a week long work placement there .I am a young artist with a particular interest in watercolours and a growing interest in the role of creativity within community settings.
On my first day of work placement I came to a session of our dementia positive programme ‘Curiosity Cafe’.I was introduced to a wonderful new way of supporting both those living with dementia and the carers. Rather than adopting the ‘have another slice of cake’ method Frances and Paula have developed a person-centered method that focuses on allowing individuals to choose for themselves what to do rather than imposing an activity.
I have also observed that language can make a huge difference and help to make people feel included and empowered. The Dry Water team have a strong focus on living with dementia rather than suffering from dementia and are skilled at using inclusive language and methods of engagement.
Dementia is clearly a taboo that most people would rather not talk about, I had never really thought about it much myself and as a result had few preconceptions. What I learned from my time working with Dry Water and the members of ‘Curiosity Cafe’ is that in fact dementia takes many forms and affects those living with it in very diverse ways.
I remember joining in with what, at the time, seemed like a bizarre activity, moving around the community room , balancing a stick with a partner. However over the past few months I have come to learn and understand that each of the activities are carefully thought about and help to break down barriers by a focus on what is possible and by embracing the creative potential of those living with dementia and their carers. People who attend Curiosity Cafe relax, feel accepted and welcomed and need not worry about being judged. Indeed if I take the example of the balancing stick activity and reflect upon it I can see that it was an activity about building a connection with the person at the end of the stick and about feeling that connection. At Curiosity Cafe no one is divided up into those living with dementia, and those caring for them, we all equal and more importantly we are all treated as individuals. Since that first session I have been to Curiosity Cafe each week , being part of this inclusive community gives me a fantastic feeling. I have also discovered new ways in which to share my painting and drawing skills and have led small workshops. The experience of observing the methods used by Paula and Frances means that I understand the importance of listening , giving time and space and the acceptance of suggestions. The main skill is to be willing to accept what arises and to be fully with the person in their creative process. As a consequence I learned to let go of focusing on an end product and enjoyed being in an open ended process myself . I have shared my skills with the group whilst learning from them, it has been a reciprocal exchange of learning and friendship whilst making art together. Nowadays I no longer feel like an outsider coming into the group I have come to feel a part of it, indeed I am referred to as the baby of the group!
Even my dog Alfie is much loved member of the Curiosity community
Amble has been lacking a place where people can creatively express themselves and Dry Water has filled that gap perfectly. Anyone that came to the open day may have done a printing activity with me. In truth I expected that we would have a small trickle of people throughout the day where in fact the place was buzzing with over 250 people visiting. The energy and enthusiasm of that day was amazing and honestly quite surprising as whilst I knew that there was a creative community in Amble I never imagined that it would be that big or draw so much interest.
There are fantastic courses going on at Dry Water Arts Centre for the whole community, everything from printing to jewellry making from yoga to dance and meditation . Frances and Paula are always open to suggestions of new classes and the lovely studio spaces are available to hire so that everyone can feel welcome.
I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my time with Dry Water and have found it immensely fulfilling. Frances and Paula have changed my perception of what it means to have dementia and what can be done to help people to live well . I have also gained insights into what it means to be a carer in what is effectively a 24 hour a day responsibility. I am always amazed by the carers who attend Curiosity Cafe, their sense of humour, their honesty, their generosity of spirit and their ability to keep going . I have become acutely aware of just how exhausting and challenging caring can be and that Curiosity Cafe offers a much needed community resource for carers, enabling them to have some precious “me” time.
Having this experience has made me consider my methods of creating art, analysing and evaluating it. Spending time at Dry Water Arts Centre means that I get to see the impact of creativity on members of our community. The need for people to come together to share ideas, to nurture their talents, to try something new or to take some time to simply be. I know that Dry Water will continue to evolve and to become increasingly integrated into the local community giving Amble a creative outlet that it has sorely needed for so long. I can only end this by saying it has been my absolute pleasure to have worked with Frances and Paula and I hope I can continue to develop the relationship for many more years helping to sustain and grow our creative community in Amble.