As the seasons change and the deckchairs are packed away there is one garden that will remain forever green - at least in our memories. 

Einstein’s Garden: the heart of the Green Man Festival and where scientists and artists wait to take you on a weird journey of discovery, saw two curious cartoon festival goers unpack their quirky 1975 DAF44 car and pitch their tent for the very first time.  Piled high with suitcases, overloaded with picnic food and proudly showing off their best table lamp, Doris and Ivor might have looked a little out of place in the lush green lowland of the beautiful Brecon Beacons but they certainly provided an eye catching sight to those who passed nearby.  

1975 Daf at the 2015 Green Man FestivalThey had definitely chosen green and fertile ground. Amidst the riot of other brightly coloured stands of geneticists, Met Office scientists and bug picnics, the simple tonal shades of the ‘Dementia and Imagination’ stall attracted over 800 people over four intense days; all curious enough to engage with Doris and Ivor’s biggest fans, sparking in-depth conversations on the impact of arts-based practices in dementia services.  

Who said that nobody wants to talk about Dementia? 


‘Carry On Cartoon Camping’, the stand’s eye-catching installation, was Research Artist Carol Hanson’s creative twist, designed to make the findings of our research programme Dementia & Imagination, led by Bangor University, more accessible to the public. 

Environmentally conscious, the set was a cleverly constructed from card and paper; a cartoon campsite belonging to characters Doris and Ivor, who having climbed from Carol’s sketchbook (and intent on living in the moment) were busy enjoying their #funnysummer.   

Carol’s main observation of the interactions in the art groups during the research process was the level of humour and fun that had both greeted and surprised her.  After all, isn’t dementia all doom and gloom? 

As people stopped to admire Doris and Ivor’s vintage car (and its paper fluffy dice), children and adults of all ages stopped to ask what art has to do with dementia.  

It was a great opportunity to explain more about the focus of this significant research project to a wide range of people - from those who hadn’t heard of dementia to others with related backgrounds like occupational therapists, support workers, researchers, auditors, managers, GPs and an entrepreneur hoping to invent therapeutic games for people with dementia.  Many supported the view of the potential benefits of using arts based practices with people who are experiencing cognitive impairment.   

Affecting the higher cortical skills first, dementia reduces our ability to use language, planning, memory and motivation. However, the deepest part of our reptilian brains (where emotions and imagination reside) are unaffected until the later stages. This explains why music has such a profound effect on even the most deeply affected person. We were gifted with many stories along the way of astonishing moments of clarity, still possible in later stage dementia with perhaps the right stimulus.  
Art and creativity is many layered and has multiple entry points. When asked to respond to a piece of artwork or an exhibition theme, it is not necessary to recall where you are, what you used to do for a living, where you grew up or how old you are. Anyone from any background can have an opinion, favourable, critical, or both. As researchers we have each witnessed the transcendental properties of such discussions.  
In Denbighshire, for instance, we saw a jewellery workshop lead to discussions among the men about types of metal used in sheet metal work and farming. This is particularly significant when considered in the context of care staff who sometimes struggle to engage men in more creative activities. With contemporary art as a catalyst for conversation, we listened to the participants hold conversations with substance ranging from the political to the sublime.  
As our people counter passed 200 on the first day, we felt we had undoubtedly come to the right festival and with an emphasis on curiosity and learning, Einstein’s Garden kept us Fully Engaged and Culturally Connected. By the last day a fellow stall holder commented that we had certainly experienced ‘Extreme public engagement!’  
Above all we were delighted that our research message and aims worked wonderfully with a more public and less academic audience. Doris and Ivor would love to return to Green Man for another #FunnySummer and although their deckchairs and memories are carefully stored, their story like our research project carries on.  
Indeed there is so much more to unfold… 

by Kat, Carol and Jeni

Added on: 13 November 2015

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