Site Loader
Join / Donate

by Eileen O’Donnell

A decade of expanding influence and making art accessible.

Founded in 2013 and starting with a partnership with a single museum and another with a single residential care community, ARTZ Philadelphia has grown in leaps and bounds. 

Led by Founder and Executive Director Susan Shifrin, ARTZ Philadelphia’s mission is to enhance the quality of life and well-being of people living with dementia and their care partners through joyful interactions around arts and culture. 

ARTZ Philadelphia has created evidence-based programs that connect people with dementia and those they love with artists, cultural organizations, and each other. The organization serves people in Hunting Park, Germantown, Logan, Olney, and West Oak Lane with the help of community liaisons and advisory groups of people living with dementia and their neighbors, friends, and caregivers. An important tenet of ARTZ Philadelphia’s work is “to build caring, supportive communities that restore and preserve the self-esteem and dignity of our constituents, regardless of their color, culture, where they live, or their economic resources,” said Dr. Shifrin.

A decade of growth

In 2014, ARTZ Philadelphia’s first year of active programming, they partnered with a single museum and a single residential care community to provide programming for about 100 people, both people living with dementia and their care partners. By 2019, their influence and programs had grown, and they were reaching almost 2,500 people each year. ARTZ Philadelphia was running recurring programs offered in five museums and arts centers as well as weekly artmaking and conversation-based programs for people in memory care, assisted living, and skilled nursing units in 10-12 nursing homes, continuing care retirement communities, day centers and senior centers. 

In 2018, ARTZ Philadelphia launched “ARTZ in the Neighborhood,” an innovative program development project in two historically underserved neighborhoods of color in North Philadelphia. They invited residents of each neighborhood to learn more about the stories of neighborhood residents living with dementia and their care partners. By sharing what used to bring them joy pre-symptoms/diagnosis, what brings them joy in the present, and what they miss doing, they collaborated with ARTZ Philadelphia to develop programs to support the residents in need. Through these listening sessions, ARTZ Philadelphia launched their first bilingual programs for Spanish-speaking residents in Hunting Park. 

With the onset of the pandemic early in 2020, ARTZ Philadelphia shifted online and found ways to make the most of its online capabilities, including the 2021 launch of a Facebook group “Life After Dementia”. The group was created and is managed by an ARTZ Philadelphia community liaison in Northwest Philadelphia. It was specifically designed for people of color lacking resources and support in navigating their journeys with dementia and was based on the liaison’s challenges. She said, “I looked online everywhere, as a care partner for my mother living with dementia, and there was no one who looked like me or like her.” Offering resources like this one is a primary focus of ARTZ Philadelphia’s work – to restore agency and an appreciation for self among community members affected by dementia. 

A life-changing program

ARTZ Philadelphia’s award-winning arts and dementia mentoring program “ARTZ @ Jefferson” validates people living with dementia and their care partners through their rightful positions of authority when it comes to the lived experiences of dementia. They serve as mentors to medical students, nursing students, public health students, and students in many other health professions at Thomas Jefferson University. The mentors teach students that people living with dementia are first and foremost human beings, most with long, rich lives and histories that demand respect and understanding before any kind of therapeutic trust can be developed. 

Almost 200 students have participated in the program since it was launched at Jefferson in April 2016. Many have said that the experience of learning from their mentors has changed them forever; some have changed their career tracks to geriatric medicine; and most students feel strongly that this program should be required for all health professions students. Approximately 60 mentors have served over the past 6 ½ years, most of them coming back time and time again to teach new students. One mentor living with dementia was still teaching her students, despite her lack of verbal communication, a month before she died.

ARTZ Philadelphia in the news

To learn more about ARTZ Philadelphia’s programs, visit their website’s News and Stories section to read blogs, articles, and watch or listen to video and radio segments. from local papers and magazines. 

ARTZ Philadelphia looking forward

Impact100 Philadelphia awarded ARTZ Philadelphia $10,000 in 2022 for their work in developing new models of program development in historically underserved neighborhoods like Hunting Park, Germantown, Logan, Olney, and West Oak Lane, in which community members living with dementia and their care partners are driving the creation of programs that serve their community-specific needs and desires.

ARTZ Philadelphia continues to play a key role in educating our current and future professional caregivers – doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, etc. – about the experiences of living with dementia and other chronic neurological illnesses and ways in which they can rediscover their patients as people first, people with illnesses only second. ARTZ Philadelphia received national recognition from the Family Caregiver Alliance for this initiative in 2017. 

“We are proud of the opportunities we provide to live meaningfully and purposefully, rather than diminished by the pervasive narratives of loss and stigma,” said Dr. Shifrin. “We achieve our results through person-centered, neighborhood-centered, culturally specific and highly interactive, evidence-based programs.” Rather than subscribing to one-size-fits-all models designed without regard to individuals’ particular needs, interests, passions, and life experiences, ARTZ Philadelphia’s models are intimate in scale (each program is capped at 6-8 people with dementia) and personalized to the greatest extent possible.

ARTZ Philadelphia welcomes volunteers. Those interested should contact Robin Falco.