In a beloved ritual that occurs daily, Mary Monefeldt makes her way to the reservoir building at St. John’s Home, stopping to get her volunteer badge before heading up to the Magnolia neighborhood. With an iPad in one hand and a bag of artwork and paintings in the other, she arrives at her husband Donald’s room. She pulls up a chair, turns on the iPad, and opens an application containing endless works of art from various famous artists. Without hesitation, Don begins pointing at the images, a slight smile forming across his face.
Mary’s weekly activities are part of a new program at St. John’s Home called “Art at the Bedside.” This visitation program uses visual arts as a springboard for starting conversations. The program was launched at Strong Memorial Hospital in 2009 in conjunction with the opening of a dedicated palliative care in-patient unit. Since then a number of volunteer docents at the Memorial Art Gallery [MAG] have been trained to facilitate the program and Mary Monefeldt is one of them.
“It’s a lovely program. It’s an excuse for visiting and triggering memories through art,” Mary explains. As a former nurse, Mary understands the importance of human connection and the ability to adapt to change. As she was nearing retirement, Mary often thought about what she wanted to do in her spare time. She soon found her niche through becoming a volunteer docent. “I’m not an artist, but I have always loved and appreciated art. I just decided [the MAG] was a place of peace and beauty.”
Now in its second year at St. John’s Home, the interest in Art at the Bedside is growing and has recently incorporated several students from the University of Rochester to help facilitate the visitations. Students spend time with Mary learning about the program and shadowing her interactions with residents before going off on their own. “I learned how she [Mary] really just let the art lead the conversation,” explains Monica Nair, a senior at the University of Rochester. “It is common for the residents, or anyone for that matter, to have some connection to art. Whether they were an art teacher, a frequent museum visitor, or just someone who was able to see a part of themselves or their experiences in a painting, art is a topic we can all form a connection over.”
With help from volunteer students, the program will now benefit over 40 residents and will continue to grow throughout the year. Students are assigned to various neighborhoods within St. John’s Home to visit with interested residents. “Our focus is to help the residents look at the art and make connections to something in their life,” says Mary. “If we can help ignite the spark and recall those memories, we are doing something right.”