Art for All

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It’s a noisier day than most at The James A. Michener Art Museum, a fine art institution located in Doylestown, Pa.

A special group of museum-goers crowd around various paintings, examining and talking about them. Instead of asking them to keep their voices down, the Michener’s museum staff and a group of loyal docents and helpers encourage the conversation, asking questions and prompting discussion.

But what makes this museum visit unique isn’t the volume of chatter and laughter  — it’s that the visitors are there on a day when the museum is closed, and they are all affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  These museum guests are participating in a Merck co-sponsored program called Art for All, designed to welcome individuals living with dementia or Alzheimer’s to the Museum.

Making art approachable

Art for All aims to make art approachable and enjoyable while fostering dialogue for participants during a time when words are difficult. For someone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, these museum visits are rare opportunities for self-expression. Instead of relying on memories for conversation, by looking and experiencing the art, they can live in the moment.

On this visit, five Merck volunteers were there to assist with the Art for All participants. Denis O’Connor, who works in Global Compliance supporting Merck’s Animal Health division, was one of them. This is Denis’ second time volunteering in such a program — and for him the connection is personal. “My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease before she passed away,” he says.  “In her later years, she received so much care and assistance from outreach groups and various other associations. It’s very nice for me to pay that forward in just the tiniest way possible.”

Volunteering their time

For this program, Merck volunteers encourage the participants to “express their feelings in response to the art,” says Diane Lisowski, who works in Merck’s legal department and helps to organize the Art for All events. “We help the participants engage with the media in the moment. It doesn’t require them to have recall, which helps when you are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.”

Denis, Diane and the other Merck volunteers are able to participate because of Merck’s innovative Global Employee Volunteerism Policy, which provides every employee, in every global location, the opportunity to take up to 40 hours of paid time off each year to help with a non-profit of their choosing.

“With Merck making it possible for employees to volunteer their time combined with my personal connection, I feel very blessed to have found this program,” says Denis. “A lot of people are touched by Alzheimer’s. I think it’s a nice association for a company which is making a difference in peoples’ lives. It partners very well with Merck’s mission to save and improve lives.”



Art for All

Art for All is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by Merck and the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation. This program is a collaboration between the James A. Michener Art Museum and ARTZ Philadelphia.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease