Macquarie University’s Art Gallery runs a successful Arts Engagement program for people living with dementia.

The Macquarie University Art Gallery has been running arts engagement program for people with dementia since 2011, when gallery curator Rhonda Davis and the team trained at the National Gallery of Australia through the NGA’s Art and Alzheimer’s program.

The University’s program has now seen hundreds of people visit the gallery participating in two-hour sessions with 6 to 12 participants and 3 to 4 carers in attendance. The session engages this audience with art in diverse ways that bring immense joy and a sense of ownership to the participants as they share their knowledge and stories. The program has proven highly successful and has expanded through a partnership with Baptist Community Care.

Participants spend time looking at art, responding and discussing it. The program has focused on abstract art, which the Macquarie University team has observed to show nuances that are particularly effective at bringing back memory.

“With their breadth of experience and relationships, elderly participants in the program bring a rich understanding to a work,” commented Dr Davis. “Being able to respond and discuss this gives them a sense of agency.

“Art opens up different emotions. On an individual basis, the arts have the ability to give us clues to everyday life, and can be a significant process in making meaning of the everyday.”

Working in collaboration with Jane Thogersen from the Australian History Museum, also located on campus, the team has further developed the program by integrating art with related objects from the Museum. This has formed a unique arts engagement program for people living with dementia that connects image with object. From all accounts so far, there appear to be key indicators for prompting memory and associated stories.

Currently, there are also early discussions around a staff wellness program that would include workshops and coffee mornings.


The Macquarie University campus is a vibrant cultural precinct. Galleries, sculptures and an arboretum make the campus a rich environment for arts engagement and contemplation. The Australian History Museum holds over 8,000 items from pre-colonisation to the present. The Sculpture Park is a collection of over 100 modern and contemporary sculptures dotted around the University campus. Tours are also available to view the largest depth of field hologram ever produced in the world, titled To Absent Friends, 1988 by renowned artist Paula Dawson. The Museum of Ancient Cultures, the University Library and the Biological Sciences Museum all have different stories to tell through their diverse collections.

The Hospital is also a part of the cultural landscape of Macquarie University and its refreshed art collection will elicit new interpretations and stories from our viewers, an exciting venture to look forward to over the coming months.

All campus arts and cultural venues and activities are open to everyone, including Hospital staff, patients and families, and the general public.