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Art and Dementia with Catherine Chastney

ART AND DEMENTIA with Catherine Chastney



For our thirtieth episode, I’m delighted to be talking to Catherine Chastney.
Catherine is an art educator and owner of social enterprise I Picture This. Catherine’s work focuses on bringing art and the joy of discussing art to older people, from creating conversations in care homes, to creating art cards during lockdown and working with people living with dementia.
In this chat we explore the strong values that guide Catherine’s work – she is passionate about that anyone can look at and discuss art, she loves using art to bring people together and to improve wellbeing
We talk to about the toolkit she has just published with the Wallace Collection for Looking at Art  designed for anyone working or volunteering in care settings and, of course, her work with people living with dementia.
Catherine shares some wonderful tips for discussing art with people with dementia – from creating trust seeking permission, active listening and creating space.
This conversation will inspire you to think about how you might use art to bring people together, create conversations, forge connections and ultimately improve wellbeing.
Support the Show
Masterclass ‘A Dementia-Friendly Approach to Art’ is available in the Thinking Museum Membership
I Picture This on Instagram
I Picture This on Facebook
I Picture This on LinkedIn
I Picture This website
Toolkit for Looking at Art 


Claire Bown 00:10
Hello and welcome to the art engager podcast with me Claire Bown. I’m here to share techniques and tools to help you engage with your audience and bring art objects and ideas to life. So let’s dive into this week’s show. Hello, and welcome back to the art engager podcast. I’m your host Claire Bown of thinking museum. And this is episode 30. So for our 30th episode, I’m delighted to be introducing another guest on the podcast. I’m talking today to Catherine ChasTney.
Now Catherine is an art educator and she is also the owner of I pictured this. And Catherine’s work focuses on bringing art and the joy of discussing art to older people from creating conversations and care homes, to creating art cards during lockdown and working with people living with dementia.
Catherine is passionate about using art to bring people together to promote discussion and improve well being. She has developed dementia tours and workshops in London galleries and heritage sites. And she’s worked in care homes, Memory Cafes, and hospitals bringing art to people that are unable to visit museums. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. Here it is. Let’s get started with today’s chat. So welcome Catherine to the Art Engager podcast. I’m delighted you could be with us.
Catherine Chastney 02:26
Thank you, Claire. It’s great to be here.
Claire Bown 02:29
So, we’re going to be chatting today, all about your work and how you came to be doing the work that you’re doing. And the work you do with seniors with older people, your focus on art and dementia. I just want to start with finding out where you are recording from today.
Catherine Chastney 02:48
Yeah, I’m in the UK. I’m in a town in Hertfordshire in Welwyn Garden City. It’s about 30 miles north of London. And so I’m lucky because I get to work in Hertfordshire and I’m able to travel into London as well and work in museums and galleries there.
Claire Bown 03:07
That’s brilliant. Yeah, the best of both worlds. And, as I told you before, I think, I grew up in St. Albans, and also a Hertfordshire girl and used to go into London a lot as well. So we have a lot in common already. Could you perhaps tell me a little bit about your background and what you’ve been doing in the past and what you’re doing right now?
Catherine Chastney 03:26
Yep. So I’ve been I’ve been working in museums and galleries for many years, started working with school groups, and then family and groups. And then in about 2005 I moved to the Wallace Collection and started the community programme there. And one of the strands of the community programme was to, to start work with older people. And we set up an outreach programme called Out Of The Frame. And this programme is just something that I’ve always loved since I started doing it. Because it’s just so wonderful to be able to take art into care settings and to be able to show people that wouldn’t be able to come to the museum and see it for themselves in many cases. So that’s kind of my total love is just bringing together arts and older people and care settings.
Claire Bown 04:31
Brilliant. I can really hear your your passion shining through. So tell me about some of the values that you hold dear in your work.
Catherine Chastney 04:40
So I just truly believe that art should be accessible to everyone. I think that just looking at art is something that can lift our spirits, it can kind of change our mood and It’s something that anyone can do. And so what I, what I really want to do is just help people to, to be able to look at art, I think people are often scared of doing it, they feel that they don’t know how to respond. And they, they say, you know, ‘it’s not my thing‘. And I really feel that that’s not the case, and that anybody can look at art, and anybody can form an opinion about it, and that those opinions should be shared and heard. And, and that, you know, art just gives us an opportunity to talk to each other and open up to each other in ways that we wouldn’t be able to do in other kinds of conversations.
Claire Bown 05:44
And this is why we have connected and why we got in touch with each other is because I think we hold so many of the same values. We’re both passionate about the same thing that you know, art should be for everyone. We really integrate in those conversations and those discussions about art and hearing multiple perspectives, all those sorts of ideas. So I’m yeah, 100% with you on that. And can we talk a little bit about your company, your organisation, I Picture This? Can you tell me a little bit about it and why you set it up?
Catherine Chastney 06:18
Yeah, definitely. So I Picture This was an idea that I’d had milling around in my head for a little while and been doing this Outreach Programme with the Wallace Collection and not living in London, I just realised that the care homes that I was visiting, and the day centres and the Memory Cafes are all in London, and I thought, you know what, there are people where I live, that would love to do this too. And then I suppose it was really the pandemic that got things going. Because I started volunteering in a care home, and my, my outreach work obviously stopped because the museums were closed and, and so it wasn’t possible to continue.
But my local care home needed some volunteer help. And so I went in once a week, and I just was was was in the dementia unit. And, and I would sit with people and chats, or we would look through magazines together, or listen to some music. And then I thought, oh, I’ve got some pictures at home, I’m going to take them in and do what I would do. In in the care homes in in London, I’m going to do this in my local care home and just sit with people and look at pictures together. And so we started doing that. And I and I it kind of solidified that, yes, this is what I want to do.
And so I set up, I Picture This as a social enterprise. And I was able to get some money from the National Lottery communities fund. And it enabled me to write these art packs. At this point, I was no longer able to go into the care home, because the pandemic had developed further. And I thought, okay, so I can’t go out to people and talk about art, I can’t bring people together, I can’t facilitate any kind of in person activities. So I’m going to do my best to help people to do it for themselves. And so I wrote, I Picture This At Home packs, and they were distributed to care homes, befriending schemes locally for free, which was brilliant. And then then we had a bit of extra money available prints and more that we could sell as well. So it’s that that was kind of where it all started, really a development of this Outreach Programme that I’ve been doing with the Wallace Collection and trying to broaden it and bring it to more people and also work with other, you know, artworks and, and collections.
Claire Bown 09:12
And fascinating and I loved the idea of, you know, being able to sort of, as we all have had to do over the past 18 months now, is to really ‘think on our feet’ and pivot and think about new ways to work with the groups that we were working with before whether that’s online, or in your case working with these art packs, which sounds like a really innovative way of carrying on those conversations about art and sort of giving people the inspiration to have those questions about art and have those conversations.
Catherine Chastney 09:44
Yeah, definitely. And I think those are one of the things that I think really affected people that were on their own during lockdown was that they weren’t always getting through a day without speaking to someone else and With an art pack, you know, you might not see someone else but you you could send out to you know, you could send one out to a family member. And then that’s, that’s something that people can talk about over the phone. And, and it was, it was great to hear that people were doing that, you know, there was one one guy who would do it with his granddaughter and I just thought it was lovely that that was happening because well, you know, it’s a conversation. It’s not about what you’ve watched on TV, and it’s not about the weather and not about the the nothingness that you’ve done at home, it’s about looking and sharing something new together.
Claire Bown 10:38
Exactly. And those moments of being in the moment with a work of art as well can really help you to sort of forget everything else that’s going on, and just focus on being there and discussing the artwork. So it can be quite therapeutic as well.
Catherine Chastney 10:53
Yeah, definitely kind of bringing in, you know, mindfulness and, and that kind of just concentrating on the here and now and enjoying enjoying that moment. And that connection, you know, and it’s it’s a connection with an artwork and its connection with a person at the same time.
Claire Bown 11:10
Yeah, yeah. Love it. Could you tell me perhaps about any other projects you’ve worked on? I know that you’ve recently published a toolkit, I’d love to hear more about that. Oh,
Catherine Chastney 11:21
So the toolkit kind of, is a development of the art packs in some ways. So the Wallace Collection, as they were unable to deliver the Outreach Programme had some, you know, wanted to keep up relationships with care homes and care providers, and wanted to be supporting them. And so we, we together, we wrote this toolkit, which is for any, any family member, any carer, any activity coordinator, someone that’s involved in, in a care setting, and it is helping people to kind of engage with arts and think about art as being something more than providing an art, an art class, I think, often in care settings, the art box, the you know, the art provision is an art class. And we wanted to say no, you know, bring in art in other ways. Bring in discussion groups bring in, you know, what, why not talk about a picture while you’re helping with personal care? Why not? In your chair based exercise classes, model, the poses of sort of sculpture. You know, if you’ve got someone who is really keen on household, quite often, women particularly, will be very keen to wipe down tables or sweep the floor. Well, you know, why not talk to them about some pictures that show domestic jobs happening, you know, things that we do in the home and how, how, how that’s changed. And so it’s kind of trying to use our in a, in a more natural, fluid conversational way. And the we use the Five Ways of Wellbeing to sort of demonstrate that arts participation is really valuable.
Claire Bown 13:43
So can you talk a little bit about those five ways?
Catherine Chastney 13:47
Yeah. So the Five Ways to Wellbeing is it’s something that the NHS (National Health Service in the UK) uses and, and MIND (mental health charity) and kind of lots of organisations that are interested in promoting mental wellbeing. And there are five things that we can all do to look after our well being so we have connect, we have take notice, we have keep learning, give and be active. And what we’re trying to demonstrate through this toolkit is that you can use art to, to it with all of these five ways to wellbeing.
So when you’re looking at art, you can look at art to connect with other people and within artwork, you are taking notice of what you’re looking about. You’re and taking notice of other people’s opinions as they talk and share with you your learning. Because as part of that conversation, people are sharing their own thoughts and ideas and you’ll giving your time and your being active in the community of the care home. So, you know, arts provision is not just a nice sort of add on, it’s really kind of fundamental to promoting good, well being, you know, for everyone, and in this case, particularly in care settings.
Claire Bown 15:19
Fantastic. I love the idea of having a toolkit as well, because it’s not only creating those connections between carers and people in the care homes, but also giving people the tools to create those conversations about art, because quite often, we hear and I’m sure you hear as well as I don’t know how to talk about our I don’t know anything about art. So giving people the tools to be able to do that, and to show them that it can actually be very simple, very accessible as simply a starting to say, you know, what do you see is a wonderful idea.
Catherine Chastney 15:53
Definitely, definitely. And, you know, I mentioned about that, that fear-factor earlier on and, and so the framework just tries to make it all so much more accessible and say to activity coordinators and carers you don’t need to know about about art, all you need to do is to be able to spend time with someone looking and saying, What do you see? And the conversation starts from there.
Claire Bown 16:21
I’m nodding away, furiously, you can’t see me but I am nodding there. So I’d love love to talk a little bit about art and dementia, people living with dementia. So could you tell us a little bit about how art or discussing art helps people living with dementia? Why would we use art?
Catherine Chastney 16:44
So many, so many reasons. So many reasons.
It’s I guess for me, one of the most fundamental reasons is that it’s it’s a leveller, you know, anyone can do it, anyone can look at art and, and so after a diagnosis of dementia, there’s, there’s obviously, worry and anxiety and people and naturally going to think about the things that they can’t do in the future.
And this, this is, this is always something that you can do, you can always look at art. And what happens when we look at as art is it engages the brain in some way. It’s something it is cognitive. But it’s there’s no kind of right or wrong way of doing it.
So when when you’re looking, you can just look you can just look quietly. And sometimes in high dependency units, where people are no longer able to express verbally, they, you can still have a really great time with someone just by watching what someone’s looking at and following their gaze. And by giving you know, a little bit of information, maybe even tracing a finger around something. So even in much more advanced stages of dementia looking at art is beneficial.
Claire Bown 18:30
Yeah, and you gave some examples there. But how do you literally engage people living with dementia with artworks? Do you use a framework? Do you ask certain types of questions? People are always interested to hear what kind of methods you use and techniques you might use.
Catherine Chastney 18:48
So I think the most important thing is to start by making people feel comfortable. Because often people feel uncomfortable if they’re not used to looking at art. So before you even get your picture out, before you even sit next to someone, you’ve got to try and make sure that the environment is right. So think about you know, if you’re visiting in a care home, this is someone’s home. So don’t put yourself opposite them where they feel trapped, you know, ask whether you can sit next to them ask whether you can spend a bit of time with them.
If you’ve got people coming in to your museum or gallery or, or heritage sites, then then welcome at the front door don’t, don’t, don’t assume that they will find you in the room that you’ve booked. Because that can be confusing and you know, you don’t know what kind of journeys someone’s had. So welcoming at the front door with a big smile on your face is immediately kind of puts people at ease. Before you even start trying to engage, just try and set the right tone.
And then I think after that, you know, we’ve already we’ve already said, you know, what can you say is? It’s it’s the question that I almost always start with. ‘Hello, my name is Catherine, I’ve got some pictures, I’d love to look at them with you. Can we look together? Can I sit next to you?‘ Usually the answer’s yes. And, and then I’ll say, Oh, let me get them out for you. Put them put them out. And let’s have a look together. This is this is something that we’re doing together. It’s not me telling you about it, I want to know what you think as well.
And so I guess that’s the second thing, kind of, don’t worry about imparting knowledge. You know, just take it at the pace of the person that you’re with, be flexible, and start with what you can see. And then I think being an active listener is really, really important. So you’ve got to allow time for people to look, don’t fill those gaps with more questions, because that’s just gonna confuse the brain. There’s a lot going on here. I’ve got an artwork, someone’s asking me a question. Oh, no, they’ve thrown in another question. Because I’ve not replied yet. You know, slow it all right down.
And, you know, the pictures out there holding it, or they’ve got it on their knee or on a table? What can you see? Wait, you know, some people will respond to this question in different ways. And you’ve got to watch what, you know, not just listen to what they’re about to say, you’ve got to watch for their body language. What? What are they looking at in the picture? Are they going to trace it with their finger? Are they looking away? Are they trying to think about what might be the right answer? Which, which sometimes is the case? So you’ve got to be really tuned in to the person that you’re with? Don’t? Don’t? Don’t just listen with your ears, listen with your whole body.
Claire Bown 22:33
Yeah, wonderful tips. There are some really great points about sort of creating that trust and safety right at the start asking permission, focusing on observation, which is a great leveller, you know, everybody can observe. And then, you know, thinking really hard about listening and making space, you know, not talking all the time creating pauses, allowing space to happen. Oh, such wonderful tips. Thank you. I’m gonna ask you to share a little bit about your class that you’re leading for us on the second of December, perhaps you could give us an overview of what we’ll be doing in that class. It’s called a dementia friendly approach to art, isn’t it?
Catherine Chastney 23:20
It is, yeah. All right, I’m going to be thinking about museum that the museum gallery or heritage environment that people work in, so people will come to the class and be able to share a bit more about their environment. And I’m going to help people to think clearly about the device, they wish to engage with people that are living with dementia, whether they’re looking to welcome people into their museum, gallery, heritage organisation, or whether they’re looking to start some outreach engagement. And we’re going to look at how to plan and deliver a session and think about how you might effectively evaluate that as well. So everything from sort of what have you got to offer to how can I how can I offer it and and then what we do next?
Claire Bown 24:23
That’s brilliant. So from start to finish, basically. Yeah, absolutely. Great. So we’re going to wrap up now I just want to tell people how they can find you find out more about you or reach out to you. Can you share some links that I can put in the show notes, please?
Catherine Chastney 24:40
Of course. Yeah. So I have a website, which is I Picture This and I’m also on Facebook and Instagram. And there is a very new I Picture This LinkedIn page, which I will be doing some more stuff on soon.
Claire Bown 25:06
Brilliant. I’ll include links to all of those. And I really recommend you go follow Catherine, I picture this on Instagram or on Facebook. That’s where we connected. And I love your posts. I love the questions that you ask, and the things that you talk about as well. It’s always really fascinating. So, thank you so much for chatting to me today about your work. I’m very excited about your masterclass on the second to December. I’ll also link to that in the show notes as well. But thanks for your time. Thanks for sharing all your expertise and your knowledge. It’s been wonderful.
Catherine Chastney
Oh, thank you, Claire.


In this 90 minute online masterclass with guest teacher Catherine Chastney we explore the ways in which looking at art can stimulate conversation with people living with dementia.
Whether you run on-site tours or outreach workshops, Catherine will help you to think about how to plan and facilitate a session that is both person-centred and object-focused.
You will explore:
  • Your museum/gallery/heritage environment – considering the unique space you work in and how to best use it when working with people with cognitive impairments;
  • Planning a session – how to choose suitable artworks, how people might engage, and how to involve carers;
  • Delivering a session – initiating a conversation, being present in the moment, active listening, knowing when and how to successfully end