Open the box

Filed : ARTS & HEALTH, PAST PROJECTS, Wellbeing projects .

March 2014.

Open the Box was designed as a sensory experience for people with advanced dementia and their carers. The project was ran by Christine McMillan from Arts OutWest and visiting artist Arti Prashar from Spare Tyre (UK) working in two local aged care facilities.


We engaged the senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell in a playful, fun series of activities which will employ non verbal communication. This pilot project offered opportunities for participants to interact with a range of materials. The materials were accessible and safe.

Groups: People with advanced dementia and their carers.

Artists: Christine McMillan from Arts OutWest
Arti Prashar from Spare Tyre (UK)



Evaluation – Discussion with staff

Was there any positive change as a result of this project?
Residents seemed more alert, calm, relaxed and happy, there were no dramas in the afternoon. Everyone was very settled even those who are not usually settled in the afternoon.

Art and music re activate the senses, touch, hearing, smell which is positive.

Were there any Unexpected outcomes?
Surprised and overwhelmed when taste was aroused by smell. Most people joined in. The feeling of being cold was created by both the fan and the blue light, one of the participants rubbed her hands together warming them under the orange light. The bird calls had a wonderful effect.

What would you do differently?
Liked how the workshop was executed, would do nothing differently.

I was worried about people bending over further than their knees and loosing their balance while reaching for the floor.

It would be interesting to do workshop at tables with the projection on the table.

It was good, something different.

Do you have suggestions for future projects?
Get people up dancing/ music/ more body movement/ a daily activity.

An activity like this once per month.

Has the project assisted you in the delivery of health services? How?
I could see how everyday objects could be used in an activity that we could run in the dementia unit. Cloth and food, connecting music and food. There is no need to buy expensive things.

Did the project help to reduce stress levels?
It worked for the moment. People were really relaxed afterwards.

Did participation in the project assist in connecting with others?
It helped me connect to a couple of the new residents. I think they are warmer towards me smiling when I pass them, like there is a memory of the emotion, having fun while we were dancing.



One of the residents who does not normally participate in group activities but removes himself from the space sat in the workshop. He didn’t physically participate, when the workshop was over he commented ‘They were pretty good weren’t they’.


Christine’s comments

What did you gain from the workshop experience with both groups?
I very much enjoyed preparing the workshop with Arti Prashar because I was reminded of the delight of exploring ideas with bridge gaps between medium and the application. The parameters set were guided by Arti’s experience with people with Alzheimers. I was amazed at how the ‘Open the Box’ workshop stimulated touch, hearing, smell, taste and sight, awakening the mind, stimulating in a gentle and supportive way. It was also fun. Presenting with two people made it easier to step back to view how individuals were responding and how the overall choreography was of the presentation was working. The performance aspect, the flow, the different opportunities for engagement, building the activity, the rhythm and speed were all elements that I would considered in the future.

How will this influence future work?
I had the opportunity to learn from Arti’s expertise while working together to designed a sensory experience for people with dementia using visuals that had been created for her project in the UK combined with a variety of materials chosen from my collection of materials and objects. It was very rewarding to work with another creative artist.

This inspired me to suggested to another Arts OutWest project manager, who has a creative arts practice, that we get together to work on a project with people with disabilities. A project has been suggested and we plan to begin to work on the development of this project in May.
After talking to staff at St Catherine’s I am also thinking of presenting other workshops on a regular basis.

Anything else?
Working with Arti has prompted me to think about developing an arts and health project as part of my own practice as an artist. I would like to investigate what sounds, images, smells etc. enliven the senses but are still calm while being stimulating and interesting. As part of this investigation I will create digital art works that can be used by health workers to de stress. The space I will use to project the images for this work was identified by Arti as an area that is unused and an ideal space to change within the hospital buildings.


Christine McMillan
Arts and Health Program Coordinator Arts OutWest
02 6330 5228

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