Ten years ago this month, a program was founded by Dr. Elizabeth "Like" Lokon at the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University. Opening Minds through Art (OMA) is an intergenerational abstract art program for people who have dementia. The mission of the program is to build bridges across age and cognitive barriers using art as the medium.
OMA means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The word OMA literally translates to the word Grandmother in Dutch. To the Elders that we serve, OMA means an hour of one-on-one attention with a volunteer who, over the course of time, has gotten to know so much about their partner. To the Elders, OMA means an hour that is free from dementia.
For the volunteers, OMA can mean giving an hour of time to others who need extra love and light. It can also be a break from the non-stop grind of college life. To a leader, it means affording students every week the amazing opportunity to empower someone. To a leader, OMA means watching and allowing meaningful relationships to form between the students and the elders, and forming and growing your own relationships too. There is so much life, light, hope, joy and sparkle that surrounds OMA. To me, OMA means family.
In OMA, we create a world that is free from disease, free from failure, free from judgment. This is a world that before joining OMA, I had never been exposed to. They say that home isn’t necessarily a place, but rather a feeling. Home can be somewhere that feels safe, comfortable and warm. For me, OMA is home. Whether it’s the Oxford Community Arts Center, the nursing homes or simply just being in the presence of my OMA family, I feel at home.
Our sole focus in this program is serving the elders and the volunteers. Fostering the intergenerational relationships, and building bridges between cognitive barriers. In doing this, I have found purpose and meaning in what I do. I have formed relationships with the phenomenal advisors, staff, my co-leaders, student-volunteers and, of course, the elders. I have learned invaluable life lessons in my 6 semesters with OMA.When we go around the nursing homes and ask the elders to join us for OMA, the most common thing they say is, “Oh, no, I am not an artist, I am no good at art, but thank you.” It’s funny because I used to think that way about myself. In elementary school, I failed art. Who knew that was even possible? Growing up I allowed myself to believe I had no artistic abilities. I say that it’s funny now because I’m the president of a service-organization that uses art as a medium to bridge intergenerational and cognitive barriers.
All of our outstanding advisors, staff members, as well as all of my fellow leaders have taught me that I, too, can be an artist. I have discovered that I can create beautiful things. I have learned that being an artist means something different to everyone. The only way to “fail” is to not allow yourself to try. So each and every week, when I get that response from the elders, I convince them that if they give it a chance, they can prove to themselves otherwise.
"The little things? The little moments? They aren't little." - John Kabat-Zinn
(Pictured: Two OMA artists who are in love)