“One thing we all have in our lives is creativity,” Dr. Elizabeth Lokon told the gathered crowd at the Oxford Community Arts Center last Friday. This is the key principle that drove her to start the Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program at Miami back in 2007. Through OMA, Miami students work with those who suffer from dementia in and around Oxford, allowing these patients to become artists.
Today, the OMA program is offered at 57 locations across the United States and worldwide with plans to expand to over 100 Ohio locations within the next two to three years.
This past Friday, OMA artists and their student partners had their works featured at the OCAC. Over 130 pieces of art by OMA artists were displayed at the event, which was accompanied by a reception with music and refreshments.
“There was a lot to hang, but the OMA people were really helpful,” said Katie Vandergriff, a Miami junior and the program coordinator at the OCAC. “I was really lucky to get to know them.”
For the past ten years, Dr. Lokon and OMA have been able to bring students and people with dementia together to express themselves through painting and other visual art methods. Each April, the OCAC holds the OMA gallery as a part of their Second Friday event series, described as a “monthly celebration of the arts” by the OCAC’s website.
Each year, the pieces of artwork created by the OMA artists are entered into a silent auction, with all proceeds benefiting the OMA program.
The auction is Vandergriff’s favorite part of the yearly OMA exhibit.
“It’s a good gift,” she said. “The best thing is that pieces here come with a story. It’s not just a piece of art. If you give a gift, you also give a story.”
After the artists were able to see their artwork on display, a program was put on in the OCAC’s ballroom. Along with recognition of all artists and students involved with the program, Dr. Lokon and a few students gave reflections on their experiences with OMA this semester.
“[The event] is multigenerational,” Dr. Lokon said on the exhibit and reception. “Students bring their parents, and the artists are here… Old and young, both come together to celebrate creativity.”
Toward the end of the program, students and artists joined in singing and dancing to “This Little Light” by North Point Kids.
Dr. Lokon says one of her motivations to start the program was to allow students to connect with those suffering from dementia.
According to some of the OMA artists themselves, student participants truly are the backbone of the program.
When asked about her favorite part of her OMA experiences, Myrna, one of the OMA artists whose work was on display, simply pointed at her student partner and said, “Her.”
“You’re my favorite part too, Myrna,” said Myrna’s partner, Miami senior Reeti Pal. Pal has worked with Myrna for the past four semesters.
“I love seeing all the amazing art Myrna makes every week,” Pal said.
It’s not just the students and artists who enjoy the annual exhibit and reception, either. The event is a favorite among OCAC staff.
“OMA people are great,” said Vandergriff. “They’re fun and dedicated just like us. I’m looking forward to next year.”
This year’s exhibit runs at the OCAC until May 5, with silent auction bids closing the afternoon of April 29.