In August, Sadie Harmon joined Elder Care Alliance as Dementia-Inclusive Communities Director. This initiative, supported by a generous grant from The San Francisco Foundation, aims to combat ageism and stigma against people living with dementia through access to arts and culture.
Making Connections Between Art and Aging
Over the next year, Harmon will organize six dementia-inclusive art experiences in several San Francisco neighborhoods. “These programs will be engaging and participatory,” she said. “I’ll be working with stakeholders throughout the community to plan some very exciting events.”
Harmon is exploring partnerships with senior centers, art, aging and housing-related organizations, as well as community-based organizations that work with isolated or marginalized older adults. People who are living with dementia while aging in place, and their care partners, will be central to all stages of the project.
Building multigenerational communities anchored by the arts is a compelling way to address shifts in demographics and the challenges that can arise as we age, Harmon said.
“By removing barriers and supporting the full participation in cultural life of older people, people living with dementia, and their care partners, we create a society that values interdependence and collective meaning making.”
Sharing the ECA Mission and Vision
While Harmon will primarily be working in Bay Area communities and neighborhoods, she’s also exploring ways for Elder Care Alliance residents and staff to be involved. “The idea is to bring some of the ECA mission and vision and expertise to these dementia-inclusive events. I want everyone in the ECA community to feel that they have a stake in this work.”
Another important aspect of this initiative is to invigorate the national conversation around dementia and age-inclusive communities by bringing together a diverse group of individuals and groups. To that end, Harmon will organize a series of conversations through the year, which will culminate in a professional convening in Spring or Summer of 2019.
“We’ll bring together people from different fields and aging-related community organizations, as well as caregivers and people living with dementia, to talk about the best way to move this work forward,” she said.
Art: A Flexible Form
Harmon received her MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from California College of the Arts. She has been a teaching artist and life enrichment coordinator in assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing communities. She originally found her way to Elder Care Alliance in graduate school, when she hosted an Open Studio at Salem Lutheran Home and Mercy Retirement & Care Center. Every Friday, Harmon would pack up her studio and move it to the common room at Salem or Mercy, chatting and making art with anyone who happened by.
After graduate school, Sadie worked in Memory Care at Salem, facilitating and planning fitness, discussion, music and art activities using guidelines from I’m Still Here and The Eden Alternative. Before returning ECA, Harmon was the Director of the Performing Arts Institute at Stagebridge, the nation’s oldest performing arts organization for older adults, where she oversaw performing arts classes and outreach programs.
“Art is such a flexible form because there are so many different ways to participate. Creativity is a universally appreciated and understood kind of expression,” she said.
Harmon encourages anyone interested in participating or following along as the year progresses to stay in touch online and through social media. “I’ll be posting content that will clue you in to when, where and how things are happening, as well as connecting to other ideas and trends in the fields of art, aging, and dementia-inclusion, among others.” You can find the Dementia-Inclusive Communities Initiative online at www.erasingboundaries.org, on Twitter @ErasingWalls, and on Instagram @ErasingBoundaries.