Older visitors welcomed at Mosman Art Gallery

Article image - Older visitors welcomed at Mosman Art Gallery Visitors enjoy a gallery tour.

Mosman Council in Sydney has responded to the needs of its ageing population through an innovative program that trains volunteer art gallery guides to better communicate with dementia sufferers.

The Council worked with Alzheimer’s Australia to train gallery guides at Mosman Art Gallery to better address the needs of visitors with dementia.

Gallery guides were asked to re-examine their communication styles and develop more ‘adventurous thinking skills’.

Alzheimer’s Australia was engaged by Council to present a day’s seminar of education and life learning for 10 guides to help them understand the nature of dementia, re-examine their own capabilities, and develop new engagement methods which would make the gallery “an experience, not a lesson” for their visitors.

On the day of training the guides realised that they were moving into a new and challenging communication environment, one demanding self-reflection and critical reassessment of their guiding skills.

The seminar conveyed that people with dementia are different to ordinary visitors – they are representatives of a unique social culture with cognitive, emotional, social, and memory disadvantages and deserve a right to speak, be understood, and listened to.

Hence, the narrative spotlight needs to dramatically shift from who is talking (the guide), to who is listening (the visitor).

Since the seminar, Mosman Art Gallery has worked to meet the needs of all the community and guided visits for people with mild to moderate dementia are now part of its core programme.  

The gallery’s guides look forward to these times because, as one said, “When we guide [older visitors] round an exhibition they teach us to ‘see’ art in ways we could never have imagined”.