The key to success in your approach is in how well you support the participation and ultimately the engagement of each participant in your program. We will explore engagement in more depth in Module 6, but we begin now with a look at participation as a first step. Participation is the act of joining with others in doing something. It is interesting to note the focus on ‘joining with others’ in this definition, indicating that participation is, in part, a social activity. This is very much in keeping with the overall goals of Artful Moments. But what does participation look like?
To support participation in a program, it is important to first determine what it actually means in practical terms. In a museum setting we may envision our lively and interactive programs with animated questioning, dialogue and even some theatrics on the part of the facilitator or the participants. It is people getting involved in the program. This is certainly one version of participation, but let’s widen the scope of our vision. Demonstrations of participation in all programs, but especially a program like Artful Moments also include other group members whose actions are more subtle. They may laugh at a funny comment, smile, or nod in response to something they have heard, or just show signs of attention. It is raising their hand or giving a ‘thumbs-up’ to something they agree with, even without saying anything. It is listening or taking note of something they have heard or seen. For some it is simply being present, in the company of other people.
Like other museum visitors, for a person with dementia, participation can be many things, both active and more subtle. With changes in ability comes the need to support (and observe) participation in a variety of ways. Virtual programs also prompt us to think of participation in even more ways. To foster participation, it is first important to establish trust, comfort and a safe space for people to feel that they can take risks in joining a program or activity. We have touched on some of these ideas already in Module 3 as part of the social environment, but it is worth examining them further as a part of our approach as well. These beginning steps include: