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Good Times goes to Crystal Palace for Overground Festival

By Louisa Bee, Press Officer at Dulwich Picture Gallery

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For the past two years, Visual to Vocal, a unique project at Dulwich, has combined art and music to increase wellbeing for people with dementia. A collaboration with English Touring Opera, the project sees participants writing and composing music inspired by our old master paintings.

The Overground Festival, a family-friendly community arts and music festival, seemed the ideal opportunity to take a ‘spin-off’ version to the community and reach out to those who hadn’t been able to access the Gallery before. I went along to the first of three ‘pop up and sing along’ workshops at St John the Evangelist Church where residents from Central Hill Day Centre and Lakeside Nursing Home in Norwood came along to take part.

The workshop was led by Abigail Sudbury from English Touring Opera and professional dancer, Anita van de Watering. After settling in with a cup of tea and a slice of cake the participants warmed up with vocal and gentle physical exercises and were then invited to look at a painting by Winifred Nicholson from our ‘Art and Life’ exhibition. The striking Polyanthus and Cineraria with its bold colour and form was a great talking point and in groups participants were asked what themes, ideas and feelings the painted inspired in them. Many topics came up in the discussions such as home, family and love - ‘Requited love’ offered one participant, ‘it reminds me of making Tea with flowers from Barbados’ said another.

Highlights from the discussion were condensed into a final poem and participants offered ideas for the melody. The song was then put to live music from a pianist.

Louisa gave flowers to Aaron from Dover
Flowers and a cup of tea bring beauty and love
Flowers come in many colours, just like us
Primroses are a sign of love
- The final poem

Michelle Weiner, Community Engagement Manager at Dulwich said:

“We have discovered that writing songs about paintings is a great way for people to connect with the art on display at the Gallery. Rather than looking back, a workshop like ‘Pop Up and Sing Along’ invites a person living with dementia to express themselves, experience something in the present and connect. Workshops like this are great ‘levellers’ in that way – everyone is equal. We have seen great results where people connect with each other too, whether that is someone new, such as from our team, or a family member or a carer. It is exciting and often very moving to be part of those moments.”