Opening minds through art

Opening minds through art

Opening Minds through Art (OMA) is an innovative art-based program which connects students with elders with dementia and fosters communication, self-worth and social interaction through art projects. Beginning in the Fall 2015 semester, the IU East Center for Service Learning will be partnering with Friends Fellowship Community to present this groundbreaking service engagement program to IU East students and staff for the first time.

oma logo

OMA was developed by gerontologist and artist Like Lokon, who is currently director of the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University (Oxford, OH). She was motivated to create the OMA program after she spent eight years with nursing home residents, paying particular attention to the abilities retained by elders with dementia. She found that, even as elders lost their ability to remember and process information, they were still capable of making remarkable creative works. OMA was developed in order to use that creative ability as a launching pad toward better communication skills and greater self confidence for those with dementia.

seniors painting

IU East has teamed up with Friends Fellowship Community in Richmond, IN to bring OMA to its residents and the campus community. Friends Fellowship and IU East are conducting the first OMA program in Indiana. Students and volunteers from IU East will be matched to a senior with dementia at Friends Fellowship. Over the course of nine weeks, senior artists will have the opportunity to create dazzling works of abstract art, with the assistance and encouragement of their IU East partners. Works will be chosen for display in a public art show at the end of each term, which will be held at Friends Fellowship. A LibGuide discussing the OMA program and providing some sample works of art can be found at

For those who are interested in participating, contact KT Lowe at or 765-973-8434. Training takes place on Friday, September 11th and Friday, September 18th, from 3:00-4:30 PM and will be conducted by Like Lokon. Once training is completed, OMA projects begin Tuesday, September 22nd and Friday, September 25th. Volunteers will be able to choose OMA sessions on Tuesdays, 1:00-2:30 PM or Fridays, 3:00-4:30 PM, and will meet with their partners weekly until Friday, November 20th. It is extremely important that volunteers make every OMA session. The connection between volunteers and OMA artists is very strong, and artists come to anticipate their OMA time.

mirror painting

The award winning program has received acclaim from a number of bodies and agencies. In August 2015, OMA was designated a Quality Improvement Program in the state of Ohio, where OMA originated. Also in August 2015, OMA earned the “Program of Distinction” award from Generations United, which is one of the highest designations a program of this type can receive in the United States. It has also received the “Best Practice” award from LeadingAge Ohio, a consortium of 400 nursing residences in the state, and featured as a model program by the National Center for Creative Aging. OMA is currently in place in 29 facilities in seven states, Canada and the Netherlands.

painting with volunteer

OMA was developed along the lines of strengths-based psychology – that is, OMA works with what elders with dementia can do, as opposed to what they cannot do. The works of art are created in sequences of no more than 11 steps (and often fewer), but offer a range of choices for artists to render their works. These failure-free abstract works instill a sense of confidence and accomplishment in elders with dementia. OMA respects the capabilities of the artists while demonstrating their abilities to others in a pronounced, beautiful way.

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