|SARASOTA, Fla. (May 11, 2021) – Students from the University of South Florida are teaming up with the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota as part of an effort to deliver Ringling’s programming to people with Alzheimer’s disease and other disabilities. |
The collaboration began this past spring in a virtual format and will continue with in-person museum visits when restrictions around COVID-19 are lifted. The aim of the effort is to connect people with cognitive disorders, sensory impairments and others to art from the Ringling collection. Working with Ringling staff, students will initiate discussions about art within the groups.
“The idea is to use structured conversation around art to reduce anxiety and social isolation by providing a safe atmosphere in which participants are able to express a personal connection to the art they’re viewing,” said Catherine Wilkins, an instructor in the Judy Genshaft Honors College at USF. “Although this is not art therapy, strictly speaking, engaging in these types of activities has been shown to have a therapeutic effect.”
Wilkins worked with the museum, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, the Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations to create a new Honors course focused on arts and health at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, about a mile north of the museum.
The semester-long class was designed to introduce students to research about the holistic health benefits of engaging with art, while also preparing them to interact with Ringling’s clients on a voluntary basis once COVID-19 restrictions have eased. Fifteen Honors students, including many from the Sarasota-Manatee campus, participated in the class, which wrapped up last week.
“It was very multi-sided and involved a lot of discussion,” accounting major Samantha Desautels said of the course. “A lot of it was about observation and listening and thinking about a piece of artwork and considering different viewpoints.”
The students viewed several Ringling works online then discussed their responses and what the artist was perhaps conveying. There were no incorrect answers as the students let their intellect and imagination guide their responses.
They also heard from experts about how to facilitate discussions for people with Alzheimer’s, and they engaged in research that could potentially lead to new programs for people with other disabilities and for doctors and nurses as well.
“What I liked most about the class was the flexibility of the discussions,” said Laura Kulcsar, a biology major. “You can look at a piece of art and appreciate it and then hear from someone else about what they think. Everybody responds differently.”
Nicolete Kulcsar, Laura’s sister and also a biology major, said: “I liked being able to listen to people describe something in detail, and ask why they said what they said. It helped give me insight and understanding into what is going on in other people’s lives.”
Many of the students said they signed up for the class because they liked the idea of helping others and trying something different from their usual course work.
Pre-med biology major Riffatul Islam, incoming student governor at the Sarasota-Manatee campus, said the class was just what the doctor ordered. With a course schedule heavy on science-based classes, Islam said he appreciated the opportunity to take a course that emphasized creative, artistic thinking.
“It was very inter-disciplinary,” he said. “You get to conduct research, but you also engage in creative activities and learn about different types of mental health issues. It gives you insight into how art can have an impact psychologically. It’s great for mental health.”
Laura Steefel-Moore, head of educational programming at the Ringling Museum, said she was delighted to work with the students. Wilkins approached her last year after hearing about the Ringling Reflections program for people with dementia.
“Every time I’ve had a discussion with the class they’ve just been so engaged and receptive,” Steefel-Moore said. “A lot of what we’re doing is practicing facilitating conversations around works of art, and the students have been very open-minded about this. This is not meant to be an art history class or be lecture-based. They have to be able to lead discussions that are grounded in kindness and empathy.”
The museum’s Ringling Reflections tours, currently held virtually, allow people with dementia and their caregivers to engage in conversations around four artworks from the museum’s collection. The program enables participants to communicate with one another and with museum educators in a safe, relaxed environment.
Steefel-Moore added that by teaming up with the students, the museum might be able to expand Ringling Reflections. Based on research generated by the students, the museum has begun exploring the idea of offering programming to foster children. “We would love to continue our collaboration with USF, and we’re hoping that more students will take the class,” Steefel-Moore said. “The more we can engage with students to help them better understand all that the museum has to offer, the better connected we become with our local community. It is a privilege to work alongside the USF students.”
For more about the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, visit www.sarasotamanatee.usf.edu.
For more about the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, visit www.ringling.org.
|About the University of South Florida |
The University of South Florida is a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at www.usf.edu. About the Ringling
The Ringling is a preeminent center for the arts, history and learning that is dedicated to bringing the past and contemporary culture to life through extraordinary visitor experiences. A place of exploration, discovery and respite, The Ringling’s campus in Sarasota, Florida – which includes the Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, an historic mansion, an 18th-century theater and bayfront gardens – is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As the State Art Museum of Florida and part of Florida State University, The Ringling fulfills an important educational mission. The Ringling offers formal and informal programs of study serving as a major resource for students, scholars, and lifelong learners of every age within the region, across the country and around the world. Learn more at www.ringling.org.