LivingArts: Update 6

LivingArts is a new project which re-imagines care homes as arts centres, through an eight-week residence in Aspen Court Care Home working with musicians. Each week we will be hearing from someone working on the project. This week Julian West, leader of the project, tells us more about this new venture…

As we approach the end of this project, my thoughts are turning towards the things that we are learning, the things that have become important.

Treasuring and valuing the moment
Throughout the project, there has a been constant stream of moments of creativity and self-expression; spontaneous half sentences, sung phrases, gestures and marks of individuality, where the personality shines through. As a team, I think I speak for all of us in saying that we have felt an anxiety, a need to do more with them, to build them into something. In the last few weeks, it has become clear that we don’t need to do anything but engage with them as fully as we possibly can in the moment; to live with the residents in the here and now, and then… let them go. Trying to “fix” these moments is like pinning a butterfly. It might be beautiful, and there for all to see, preserved under glass, but the life has gone. The very thing that made it a butterfly isn’t there anymore.
“Butterfly moments” is a known approach in relation to providing care for people who are living with dementia, moments of genuine connection and meaning that may be fleeting. I think that it might be much more than a “technique”.

We remarked early on in the project that the spontaneous moment of expression quite often comes just at the end of something, just when you thought it was all done with, or just as a person was leaving the room. We called it a “flourish”. It seems like a common desire amongst all of us to add a bit of ourselves to things, to make a contribution, to embellish, to show our individuality. And we wait until the last minute to do it, like the final bit of decoration on a cake, or that parting joke or wink. It’s a bit reckless – we take a tiny risk to show our true colours, or what we were really thinking…

The desire to give, to contribute and to care. In care homes, this seems to mostly happen in one direction – from care-giver to cared-for. Yet there have been many times when the relationship has changed, and the residents have given us gifts, and shown their care for us. The distressed lady who warmed my cold hands between her own…the gift of a tune on a mouth organ…the concern for one of our team who looked tired, and was offered a cup of tea by a resident…contributions of imagination, spontaneous creation and of appreciation…and many, many gifts of the residents sharing with us things that they have found to be important in life.
I wonder how many opportunities we give for older people to continue to give? For them to offer care?

“Forget Memory”
This is the title of a book by the American practitioner, academic and writer, Anne Davis Basting, which has been a huge inspiration for me in this project. Why are we obsessed with remembering everything? And why do we want people who are living with dementia to remember things? Who is it for?
There have been many moments on this project that have shown me that we are so much more than our memories. We are our physical bodies, our preferences, our senses, our sense of humour, and our imaginations. Most of these stay with us. We are creative beings until the very ends of our lives.

Follow the blog for regular updates from members of the team as we move towards our festival day on Wednesday 6 April. For more information about the LivingArts project visit our website

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England.


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