How Art Can Help Us Recall Emotional Memories

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Memories come back to us through emotional experiences.

That’s how Christina Muscatello, founder of the Memory Maker Project, thinks of it. She explained it like this: you hear a song and it makes you feel something. Then, you think back to your middle school dance, and the first time you slow danced.

“You would have never had a moment to access that memory without having that emotional tie,” Muscatello said.

The tie between emotions and memory is what’s behind the Memory Maker Project. The project wants to make that connection for someone living with memory loss.

Memory loss can be isolating, leading to anxiety and depression. Muscatello’s goal is to make public spaces accessible again.

“How can I make this community a place that people can use in the same way they did before, but in a way that makes sense for them and what they’re able to do?” she asked.

They visit museums and see movies, and on this trip the group visited a gallery showing art using textiles. (Full disclosure: WSKG is a cultural partner of the Memory Maker Project.)

In a visit to the Orazio Salati Gallery in Binghamton earlier this year, artist Muffin Ray was on display. In some of her work, she uses “found” fabrics like baby clothes or bedspreads to paint on, instead of a canvas. After looking at a piece with a crocheted pattern, one Memory Maker participant quietly told Muscatello that her mother taught her how to crochet. She crocheted all kinds of things.

“I have tablecloths. I have doilies,” she said, “I even have underwear! Those I did when I got older.”

Seeing the art reminded her that she crocheted herself a pair of underwear once; this is exactly the response Muscatello seeks from a trip to a gallery. The outings help participants recall or even create new memories.

“Hopefully the memories that come out of that are positive ones [and] that the next time they go to a gallery, go to a museum or listen to the symphony, it’s going to connect back to that,” Muscatello explained. “That joy memory is really what kind of sticks, I think.”

That afternoon of art at Orazio Salati Gallery gave that group of seniors an opportunity to talk, think, and express their ideas. Hopefully, it brought them joy.

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