From 2002 until 2012 my husband and I resided in Nice, the fifth largest city in France.. I had completed the work on what was to be the book ALIVE WITH ALZHEIMER’S, and in the first year of my residence there I was introduced to Professeur Philippe Robert, director of the Alzheimer’s research and care program for the city who had learned of my exhibit and forthcoming book ALIVE WITH ALZHEIMER’S.
His program was then housed in two Nice hospitals, but it had an outreach far beyond the limits of Nice. When Professeur Robert learned I was living there, he immediately invited my Alive With Alzheimer’s exhibit to a conference he was organizing. Soon thereafter, learning that I had been made an “artist in residence” in the palliative care department of one of the local hospitals, he urged me to move my appointment to the hospital that housed the bulk of his program. I accepted with pleasure and began what became a rich collaboration with the team that lasted until my departure in 2012. I continue to have an appointment with the CoBTEk program, which does a great deal of creative research.
The Alzheimer program had many components. Professeur Robert, a psychiatrist, and his team did assessments, offered diagnoses, provided counseling, and created programs to educate the larger population. A major part of the program was a weekly day program for people diagnosed with dementia, alongside which another staff member led meetings for caregivers who shared their frustrations and successes.
Early on I began visiting the weekly day program run by Valerie Lafont , and Christelle FiIlieu. Together we created a package combining their text and my images explaining how to run such a program. It was printed and shipped to Alzheimer’s programs around the country to assist them to establish their own similar programs. I photographed at many events on an ad hoc basis. In collaboration with Nice Alzheimer, I joined activities such as excursions to local venues and the annual Christmas party of the local Alzheimer’s society chapter, photographing at all of them.
When the hospital officials decided to move the growing program to a larger space, which proved to be in the basement, and bare of any “life”, Professeur Robert was dismayed that the patients would feel they were no longer valued. He immediately allocated funds to create a gallery of large prints from my photos of the program. A local professional printer made 24 large prints, and soon the bare walls of the corridor were decorated. People began coming from other parts of the hospital to see them.
By 2010 museum visit programs for people with dementia had been created in New York, Paris, Rome and a few other cities. Valerie Lafont, Professeur Robert, and I decided to make a modified version of such a program. Instead of following the model of having one museum in a city to which different groups of people with dementia were invited for a visit, we worked with Pascale Ferralis, an enthusiastic member of the city council, to create a group of seven local museums to work with us. As it evolved in the first year, several groups of about 20 people each accompanied by a family member went to seven local art museums during the course of the year, including the Matisse museum, the Chagall museum, the Beaux museum, and the Art Naif museum. At each museum a docent was trained on how to best relate to the visitors, present information and encourage questions. A member of the Alzheimer team from the institute accompanied Valerie. Christelle, me and the participants.
It was a huge success.