This spring AFTA partnered again with The Kreeger Museum and Levine Music on a series of workshops designed around the Conversations at The Kreeger program. Conversations is a program for individuals with memory disorders and their caregivers that provides a forum for dialogue and connection through art and music. In our expansion of the Conversations program, AFTA Teaching Artists lead hands-on art, music and dance workshops built thematically around works of art viewed at the museum.
Seniors from the Genevieve Johnson Senior Day Care Center in Washington, D.C. participated in this year’s seven week series. On their first trip to the museum, they viewed local artist Betsy Stewart’s sculpture Aquatilis #6. The tall, thin sculpture is painted with watery, microscopic scenes inspired by Stewart’s son’s biology textbook. The group shared observations about the sculpture. As we identified themes from the natural world, we learned that one of our seniors had worked as an oceanographer. Participant Shirley commented that the sculpture “shows life as itself”. Another participant reflected that, “God doesn’t make life dull — he makes you think.”
AFTA Teaching Artist Peter Burroughs and Levine musician Carlos Cesar Rodriguez led the group in an aqueous exploration of music. Musical selections included At the River by Charles Ives, Ein Schwan by Edvard Grieg and Nessun Dorma by Giacomo Puccini. The participants swayed gently and waved their arms as if underwater themselves while pianist Rodriguez played a flowing piece by Debussy. In a follow-up sessions at the senior center, AFTA Teaching Artist Donna McKee guided the group in painting watercolors influenced by the sculpture and by microscopic photographs of nature in its most basic form. AFTA Teaching Artist Nancy Havlik inspired flowing brush movements with gliding arm and hand dances.
On their second visit to the museum, the group viewed an African mask. There were many questions about the mask’s use in African culture. We learned that a participant named Samuel was from Nigeria, and he shared memories of masks from the villages in his country. His father taught him to play the ‘talking drums’, which were an important form of communication. Dances with masks were a dialogue between the dancer and the drummer. Levine musician Vasily Popov and his brother Nikolai Popov conversed on their respective instruments, cello and flute.
In follow-up workshops at the senior center, AFTA Teaching Artists encouraged participants to create a percussive group dance and vocal expression. Inspired by visual symbols in photographs of African masks and examples of adinkra symbols and their cultural meanings, each participant created their own mask. At the end of workshop they went back to the music and dance – moving their masks up and down, sometimes hiding their faces, responding to the drumming and the vocals.
Our final session at the Kreeger Museum was a lively union of voice, rhythm, movement and art! The mood was bright as the group of seniors convened in The Kreeger Museum’s Great Hall. Their artwork was on display alongside the museum’s Picassos and Monets. Participants swapped African masks and shared the music and dance they created the previous week. They showed appreciation for the museum’s art, as well as the art they had made and their friends’ art. Reflecting on the series, Wise said the sessions were something he’s never seen before, and Verleen rejoiced in “dancing like she used to”. Gloria shared that she learned so much about her friend Samuel and was impressed by his artistic ability. Everyone agreed that the program was a great success and the group plans to return to the Kreeger Museum for future visits.