«Awakened Art Stories» – rediscovering pictures together anew with dementia

An intervention project of the Center for Gerontology in cooperation with the Alzheimer Association Canton Zurich, the Sanatorium Kilchberg, Kunsthaus Zurich, the commune of Horgen and the nursing home Entlisberg of the city of Zurich.


So far the public image of dementia has been predominantly negative. This focus on the deficit-oriented perspective can be changed into a more competence-oriented view by means of a resource-oriented approach towards the illness paired with observable, guided activities and productions.  

Project idea “Awakened Art Stories” – rediscovering pictures together with dementia

The project animates people with dementia to make up creative stories based on photographs and/or paintings and corresponding open-ended questions. What makes it special is the group setting, the location in an actual museum, as well as the opportunity to start a creative process without knowledge of the individual biographies. Neither increasing forgetfulness nor word-finding difficulties pose any barriers.


Intellectual stimulation and social interaction ensue in an accepting environment as a result of the regular visits to the museum in connection with the process of making up creative stories. This in turn provides people with dementia, their family members as well as volunteers with a shared positive experience, and enables emotional sustainability. Remaining competences and resources of people with dementia are furthered, while creative potential and the enjoyment of doing something oneself are awoken.

The invented stories function as transfer to the public (for example as an exhibit or an illustrated book) to help reduce the deficit-oriented image of dementia. People with dementia as well as their family members can thus experience public valuation and strengthened self-esteem.

The project «Awakened Art Stories»– rediscovering art together with dementia unifies everything desirable in a social intervention in the field of dementia: It integrates, strengthens and enables individuals with and without dementia alike, is entirely positive and inspires the larger public to reconsider the deficit-oriented image of dementia based on real experiences. In addition, the project provides volunteers with an opportunity to get involved with a positive and enjoyable social engagement.


Last but not least, this pilot study is scientifically evaluated in a process-oriented manner, continually optimized and tested for effectiveness.

2013 Sessions

On 17 afternoons in spring and fall 2013, groups of between 4 and 10 people with dementia, together with relatives, caregivers, and volunteers, participated in creative storytelling at the Kunsthaus Zürich (Art Museum of Zürich), followed by a closing reception. Most participants attended on a regular basis. Surveys showed that participants consistently experienced the sessions as very positive and joyful. Two master's students joined the fall sessions in a scientific capacity. A summary of their results will be presented at the seminar planned for February 2015.

2014 Sessions

2014 got off to a successful start with sold-out spring sessions at the Kunsthaus Zürich. Starting fall 2014, the Kunsthaus Zürich will take over the operation of the sessions, which will be offered on the following dates: September 9, 16, 23, and 30. To register, please contact Dr. Sibyl Kraft, head of Outreach and Education of the Kunsthaus Zürich (kraft@kunsthaus.ch).


One of the goals of the program is to inspire professionals in museums and eldercare institutions to offer their own such programs serving persons with dementia. These efforts are already bearing fruit, as we welcome three new partners in 2014: the City of Zürich Senior Centers, the 'pflegemuri' care center, and the Kunsthaus Aarau (Aarau Art Museum). The City of Zürich Senior Centers kicked off their sessions to positive reviews from participants. 2014 will also see the inception of spring and fall sessions offered by the Kunsthaus Aarau for residents of 'pflegemuri'.

For the professional development of both care center and museum staff, Dr. Karin Wilkening led a workshop in April 2014 at the Center for Gerontology on the Time Slips method for eliciting creative storytelling, and saw through its successful implementation at elder care institutions and at the Kunsthaus Zürich. Plans are underway to conduct this workshop again in the fall.

Duration of the project: 6/2012 – 12/2015

Dr. Sandra Oppikofer (Director), sandra.oppikofer@zfg.uzh.ch
Silvia Angst (Executive Manager), Tel. 044 635 34 28, silvia.angst@zfg.uzh.ch
Prof. Dr. Karin Wilkening (Scientific Manager), karin.wilkening@gmail.com