Story+ Project

Public Art As Public Health: Moving Messages of Dementia Inclusion


Story+ 2021 | Public Art As Public Health: Moving Messages of Dementia Inclusion

Physical distancing regulations linked to the COVID-10 pandemic have produced social isolation on a truly global scale. For persons living with Dementia and cognitive health disorders in Durham, the need to combat social isolation and restore human connection and wellbeing today is particularly urgent. Public Art as Public Health: Moving Messages of Dementia Inclusion casts Duke students as an interdisciplinary arts research team engaged in the co-creation of environmental, digital, and participatory art and public storytelling alongside community organizational partners from Dementia Inclusive Durham (DID). Working alongside Duke Professor Sarah Wilbur (Dance), interdisciplinary artist Brittany J. Green and facilitators from TimeSlips Creative Storytelling (, students spend six weeks investigating how interdisciplinary art and creative engagement can support Dementia-awareness education and creative care for persons living with Dementia as a city-wide responsibility. After receiving training in Dementia literacy and interdisciplinary arts processes including TimeSlips creative storytelling facilitation methods, members of our team will join weekly creative care gatherings (hosted by phone and/or ZOOM) and build connections with persons with Dementia and their care partners. Archived stories and creative contributions from consenting creative storytelling participants will serve as source material for virtually disseminated art work designed to raise awareness of DID among the Durham public at large. Through direct engagement with persons living with Dementia and their care partners, our Story+ team joins this ambitious city-wide effort to build a Creative Community of Care and to declare Durham a Dementia-friendly, Dementia-capable city by 2023.

Our project partners embrace the fundamental creativity and cultural values of all students as assets for arts based research. Given the social distancing challenges of the proposed public engagement, we are particularly excited to enlist students with skills or interests in learning and applying visual arts and design, performing arts and writing in the virtual realm. This Story+ project is particularly suited for students whose research interests and experiences span the arts, US health policy, and cross-sector community-based public health and cultural development.

Project Sponsor(s): 

Sarah Wilbur, Ph.D., M.F.A.Assistant Professor of the Practice, Duke Dance Program

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Brittany J. Green, PhD Candidate Music


Arthi Kozhumam, Maria Oliva Santos, Sanjana Jha


Team photo, five faces in six boxes
Public Art as Public Health Story+ Team, Summer 2021. From top left to bottom right: Olivia Santos, Arthi Kozhumam, Sanjana Jha, Brittany Green, Sarah Wilbur.

Our arts-based research team spent six weeks generating multiple narratives of dementia inclusion and stitching them together in the form of a digital workbook prototype focused on hailing people who do not live with dementia or cognitive challenges to consider their role in destigmatizing this condition and fostering cultures of inclusion in Durham and North Carolina through critical acts of listening, learning, and care. To contend with our guiding research question—how can artistic and creative expression contribute to messages of widespread inclusion and cultural change for persons living with dementia and their care partners?--we built a shared vocabulary grounded in a disability justice framework. We drew from public health archives, dementia inclusion and education literatures put forth by our community partners (TimeSlips and Dementia Inclusive Durham/DID), and—crucially—testimony and creative ideas contributed by persons living with dementia in Durham and the triangle area. These latter contributors are, in our view, the true “experts.” Our resulting workbook sought to highlight their creativity, experiences and wisdom as  foundational to the kind of widespread cultural and structural change that DID currently envisions. With our artistic methodologies sequestered to the virtual realm, we chose to compile our prototype in the format of a GoogleSlides presentation. Team members each applied their creative assets to the charge, producing visual art, collage, poetry, music and sound compositions, and video performance works that hail workbook readers to consider how they might speak, move, or otherwise commit to widespread dementia support. Our multi-talented and critically empathetic research team members did not set out to “answer” the question of how to make Durham a “Dementia-Inclusive City.” In true humanistic form, we insisted, instead, that the answers to how to live a full and flourishing life in Durham are multiple and unstandardizeable, and are best represented multi-vocally. Our workbook, thus, is structured like a song, with verses and choruses that provoke anyone who encounters the prototype to see themselves as critical listeners and co-learners in this community-wide project.

About TimeSlips Creative Engagement and Storytelling Methodologies (nonprofit arts organization committed to bringing meaning and purpose to the lives of elders through arts participation and creative engagement): All student and grad mentors received online training in TimeSlips creative storytelling methods to participate in this project. Sourced responses to open ended “beautiful” questions formed the inspiration for some of the messages in our resultant workbook prototype.
About Dementia Inclusive Durham— DID was our community partner organization, organizers united by the vision of Durham as a place where persons living with dementia are fully valued and supported in their full flourishing. DID volunteers are working with a wide range of local organizations (senior centers, museums, faith based communities, dementia-service organizations, and universities) to make Durham a Dementia-Inclusive city by 2023 by uniting different community sectors and stakeholders and educating them about how to participate in creating cultural understanding around dementia and dismantling its stigmatizing impacts on families.


  • Arts
  • Dance
  • Music