Arti Prashar has worked creatively with older people for 20+ years and is Artistic Director and CEO of the Spare Tyre Theatre Company. Her arts practice is very much about engaging in the moment and finding different ways of communicating that are inclusive and uncensored for all people, including those living with dementias and their carers. Arti is also a Winston Churchill Fellow in Dementia, ageing and spirituality.
Please tell us about some of the work you have done to support, improve and contribute to the lives of, people with dementias?
I have produced two shows for people living with more advanced dementias as part of my work with Spare Tyre. Once Upon a Time was a storytelling show that took people on a train journey, used projection when it was unfamiliar, and engaged with the senses of taste, touch and smell. The Garden is a critically acclaimed, non-verbal, interactive and sensory experience and show. It builds on Once Upon a Time’s sensory approach, but essentially removes language as a barrier for people living with a dementia.
My arts practice is about creating with people, to engage in the moment and find a range of platforms for people to be able to communicate and express themselves without being censored. This is my core philosophy.
I have created training for, and mentored, artists and paid and family carers, that focuses on sensory engagement and everyday activities like having a bath to remove distress.
What was your motivation for getting involved in the field of dementia?
I have worked creatively with older people for 20+ years so it was a natural move to create with people living with dementias. But essentially I was curious as to why carers found it difficult to communicate with the people they cared for. My central question has been: Why is it difficult to communicate with another human being? What makes them so different?
I don’t believe all arts engagement has to be entertainment, but can but profound, spiritual, and playful.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement or highlight?
Producing a non verbal show: the response has been amazing. There are three main responses from audiences with dementia: engaging with us on their terms, tears, laughter, and conversation that has flow. The show reaches into their imagination, and deeply touches their emotional intelligence.
I am very proud of this work and it's impact on a wide range of people. I am currently developing it for learning, disabled audiences.
What’s next for you?
1. To produce a third show!
2. Working in an innovative three-year partnership with an arts centre, local authority departments and a day-care centre to change the culture and approach to dementia that adopts the social model of disability.
3. Set up a theatre company comprising of people living with dementias
If you could change one thing now to improve the lives of people living with dementia, what would it be?
Not to medicalise dementia care, and to put more money into dementia and theatre – of course!