One of the access programs that we offer at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum is a free, monthly program program designed specifically for people with memory loss and their care partners called SPARK! It has been going strong for nearly ten years and it is still gets my stomach in a flutter every time. It isn’t a hard program to run. In fact, I don’t even run most of them -- my amazing volunteers do all the heavy lifting for each monthly SPARK! program. But I still get nervous because I want it to be great. I know how many places and activities are no longer comfortable for people living with dementia. I know how hard it is to try to plan an outing not knowing what the morning might bring. And when participants walk up to the Museum on the morning of SPARK!, I am always thrilled that they were able to make the trip. I want them to feel welcome, safe and comfortable. I want them to forget about the dishes in the sink or the laundry- if only for 90 minutes.  

I always get asked what “SPARK!” stands for. It isn’t an acronym. A group of us (cultural institutions across Wisconsin and Minnesota) offering this program decided we liked that word because it captured a certain spirit. However, almost 10 years later, we answer that question a different way. The five letters in “SPARK!” stands for 5 opportunities:

  1. An opportunity to connect with your loved one. SPARK! is a partner program for the person living with memory loss and their care partner.  

  2. An opportunity to get out of the house.  Social isolation can be challenging when living with a dementia diagnosis.  Coming to a safe, welcoming place - even if just to get out of the house can be a game-changer in someone’s day.

  3. An opportunity to learn something new. Many believe this isn’t possible when diagnosed with a form of dementia, but it’s not true.  

  4. An opportunity to engage with your local cultural institution (in our case, a world-class art museum!).

  5. An opportunity to meet friends on a similar life journey.  Friends often fade away with a diagnosis of memory loss.

     !. *the exclamation point stands for FUN!


If someone you know would like to attend a SPARK! Program, find out more information here.

This week is Dementia Awareness week in Winona, Minnesota. There are activities and learning sessions all week long, most taking place at the Winona Friendship Center. If you can’t make it to an event, consider encouraging your place of work, or church, to take a free, one-hour “Dementia-Friends” training to learn how you can better serve your clients.  The more inclusive we are of everyone’s needs, the stronger we are as a community.

Thank you!

Heather Casper

Curator of Education

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Heather Casper