In this episode, Melissa speaks to Kevin Sharp, Executive Director of Dixon Gallery and Gardens—next door neighbor to Opus East Memphis, opening in 2023. He discusses the offerings and programs available at the museum and how the visual arts are beneficial for the senior population.

Video Transcript

- Hello, everybody, and welcome into Senior Living Live. My name is Melissa. Thank you so much for being a part of our show today. Now, the Arbor Company and Sagestone Partners, you hear a lot about them, are in the process of building a brand new community in East Memphis Tennessee, called Opus East Memphis. This luxurious senior living community is scheduled to open in early 2023, and we thought it would be a pretty good idea to introduce you, some of our future residents, we hope, to some of the wonderful offerings nearby. Kevin Sharp of Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis is with me today to dive into the visual arts, and explain how it can help, no matter where you happen to be in your senior living journey. Kevin, thank you so much for being with us today.

- Well, Melissa, thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

- Yeah, I love this topic so much, and you know, there's a lot of scientific data to back up you know, the arts, visual arts, seniors in general, those who need a little bit of help with memory care. We're gonna dive into all that. But first, before we do that, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and Dixon Gallery and Gardens there in Memphis.

- Sure, well, we literally share a fence with Opus East, and so we are very much next door neighbors. I am the Executive Director of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. It's a position I've held for 15 years, before that I was largely a curator. I started my museum journey at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1988. I went to the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, where I was curator of American Art for a number of years. And lastly, I was at a small museum in downstate Illinois called Cedarhurst, where I was Director of Visual Arts. And so, I am- excuse me, I am now- should have put it on do not disturb well before now. And so I'm now the director of the Dixon in beautiful Memphis, Tennessee, and just really loving it.

- Yeah, so this is a good time now to use your words to really help give us a picture of this Dixon Gallery and Gardens. What can our future residents expect when they visit?

- Well, we're a very special place. We are a museum of fine art. We have a world class collection, the real strength of the collection is in French impressionism, but we're really a museum of modern art in the purest sense of the word. It meaning that that we're looking at European and American art from about 1850 to 1950, in this crucial modernist window. And we have outstanding examples by such notable artists as Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. I mean, just sort of the name brands of impressionism, but our collection moves into the 20th century and we have wonderful examples by Matisse and by Marc Chagall and many others. So we have a world class collection, but we don't depend solely on that. We are constantly cycling exhibitions through the museum. So there's always something new to see and do at the Dixon. So the special exhibitions turn in our galleries about four times a year, almost always four times a year. And that matches the seasons, which has a great deal more relevance for our beautiful beautiful 17 acres of gardens where, you know, it's very much a four season garden, and things are always changing there as well, as we move from spring to summer to fall to winter.

- Yeah, so there's a lot there. You did a good job. You did a really good job. I was getting excited just hearing that description.

- I look forward to showing it to you.

- Yeah, and you guys have more than just that, right? So we're really talking today about the visual arts but also the things that our potential residents can do and participate in. So, you know, many of our Arbor communities, we try to engage our residents with many different types of activities, music therapy to art, as we're talking about here. That is your specialty, obviously. So tell us about some of the programs that you offer for seniors and guests who come to visit.

- Yeah, we have a very, very dynamic education program at the Dixon, and it's really been a catalyst for building community here in Memphis. And so we have tons of programs for, I mean, we really do educate for the life cycle and they're in the gardens as well as on the art side. But we do things like Tours at Two, every Sunday afternoon at two o'clock, we do Lunch and Learn every Wednesday at noon, where we do 50 Lunch and Learns every year, where somebody from the community will come in and share something interesting. I try to do a Lunch and Learn about four times a year myself just to keep my hand in. But we also have things like yoga. We have a Dixon Book Club, we have Senior Studio. In Senior Studio, we did a multi-day watercolor workshop in April, and in June we're doing a pottery workshop. And then we have things like Hobby Kickstart where we introduce people, give people an opportunity to see if a certain hobby is right for them. And then of course basic museum and garden fare, things like lectures, tours. And then we do a great deal with outreach, where we actually come to you and share programs, if that's more convenient or more accessible for your residents. So it's a very dynamic program. At any given time, there are roughly 30 standing education programs in the gardens and the galleries. And that also includes, we also do a lot of special events. So just last Sunday, on Mother's Day, we had Symphony in the Gardens, where the Memphis Symphony Orchestra performed on our south lawn. We have a virtual Wine Down, a wine tasting program called Wine Down at the Dixon, and that went virtual during the pandemic but it was so much better in its way as a virtual program that we kinda left it there. And we just, there's just always something, always something to do at the Dixon. And it's usually something that's kind of inspiring and enriching.

- And how fortunate will our residents be that, you know, when the music's playing, they can just lift the windows up and hear it. It's wonderful. It just, it sounds dreamy, actually.

- Yeah.

- That's the best word I can think of to describe it. So let's talk about our seniors a little bit here, and how does art and aging really go hand in hand?

- Well, you know, I'll say this, I mean, you know, art is, you know, a kind of maturing process all its own. You know, the more you dig into the world of art, and I think this is also true of understanding the natural world and horticulture as well. But the more you give to it, the more you embrace it, the more your own knowledge and understanding and experience of works of art matures in a way, the more enriching, the more it'll give back to you. And so when the residents of Opus East have this sort of incredibly close access to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, even if you know, art hasn't been a big part of your life up to that point, you should give it a try. It's right there. The proximity is so close, and I can tell you the more you give to it, the more it will mature as a thing of value in your life. And it'll inspire you, it'll enrich you, it will make you more empathetic. It will make you more understanding. It will open up worlds to you that you may not have known before. And that's something very, very special. So I think, you know, as you know, when I was young, when I was a young curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, you know, I of course, knew everything, but I didn't know anything. And as the years have gone by, and I've gotten older and spent that just that much more time learning and being open to the wonders that art can bring to my life, you know, it's been an enormously satisfying and enriching experience. And I think we can create that same template for our visitors.

- Yeah, it's certainly something we can all appreciate. And another thing I could appreciate is the scientific data to back up everything you just said, and how important expressive art, as well, can be as we age, no matter where people happen to be in that journey in life whether they're seniors, they're young but in particular today, we are talking about our seniors. So can you give our viewers some examples that you have seen there at Dixon Gallery and Gardens where this has proven true for you?

- Well, yeah, it's very, I mean, that's very easy to do. I mean, we see it every day, you know. The museum audiences tend to skew a little older, you know, I mean, we see tons of children as well. So, you know, I mean, like I said it's a museum for the entire life cycle, but regular visitors tend to skew a little bit older. And the example I would probably give you is one that we can all kind of relate to, having just come out of this pandemic experience. When we got back open, you know, we had to close in March of 2020, and we didn't get back open until June of 2020. So we were closed for two full months, and we opened the gardens. And some of the first people that came back were seniors. You know, some people who were possibly, you know, remember how little we knew in May and June of 2020, and people who were possibly the most vulnerable were the first to come back. And they were so incredibly grateful to have a place to go. Now it started with just the gardens. We could open the gardens about a month, or maybe five weeks sooner than we opened the museum, but it was the same thing when the museum got opened again. And I think that, I mean, you know, that you're absolutely right. I mean, the data shows the benefits of experiencing works of art, and certainly being in nature, and what that can do for health and wellbeing and for fitness and for any number of, you know, emotional issues, and this mindfulness and wellness. And we focus on all of that at the Dixon. And we do it in an environment that is incredibly welcoming, incredibly gracious, and here for everybody. So, yeah, I think it's the kind of place that the residents of Opus are going to appreciate and value and you know the data actually supports the benefits of these experiences.

- Yeah, and especially for someone who may be suffering from memory loss, dementia.

- Yeah.

- You know, Alzheimer's, the scientific data is certainly there on that end, not just for the visual arts and what they're seeing, but being able to create art, it just hits a different part in your brain that doesn't seem to be as impacted by dementia. And we talk about that music therapy and art therapy, it's huge when it comes to engagement in our senior living communities. And so to have this literally in their backyard is a huge win for these residents, already, out of the gate before they even move in. It's fantastic.

- It's very true. And, you know, we work with art therapists, as a matter of routine, in various programs at the Dixon.

- Yeah, I love that. I do love that so much. And your programs are gonna be able to provide a lot for a lot of different people, again, wherever they happen to be in their life journey.

- Right.

- So if someone wants to find out a little bit more about your fine art museum, and the gardens, in particular, how can they get in touch with you?

- Well, I mean, that's very easy. I mean, probably the best thing to do is to go to our website, maybe,, or probably actually the best thing to do is become a member of the Dixon. And we'll send you information, we'll send you invitations you'll get our quarterly newsletter. It's just a very easy way of plugging in and knowing exactly what's going on at the Dixon at any given time, or just visit. It's, you know, I mean the Dixon is very much a town square and it's an easy place to visit. We charge no admission fee to visit the Dixon. And so you can feel comfortable about coming here. You can feel comfortable about inviting someone to come here because you're not inviting them to pay to do something, you're inviting them to come see a beautiful place and to experience it for free. And for those of you, now, I don't happen to be very involved on social media, but the Dixon is absolutely plugged in to Facebook, to Instagram, to all that stuff. So if you do any of that, we're very easy to find there as well. Or just, you know, or just call us.

- Yeah, and I probably wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't dive a little bit deeper to one other program I think you've got there, or will be starting up, and that's your, with Parkinson's-

- Yeah, that's right, that's right.

- Yeah, let's talk about that just a little bit. When will we see that?

- Yeah, well, we're piloting it, this program, right now. We tend to partner with organizations across the city. So we're not just creating a program and saying, oh, please come. We're creating a program with a partnering organization who has an audience that will come. And so we are partnering with 901 Parkinson's Fighters, an organization here in Memphis, and we are working on an art therapy program that was conceived about 40 years ago in Australia. And we got permission to mimic that program. And so we've just started this month, and that program should launch sometime in the fall. And it's just a way of engaging another part of the brain, the creative side of ourselves, that part that we all have, whether we want to admit it or not, or whether we take advantage of it or not, it's there. And it also helps with motor skills, and so far it's gotten very high marks from the people who are participating, as well their caregivers. And so we, assuming it all goes well, it should launch this fall sometime.

- I love it, just in time, right? Just in time to get it going for for our residents there at Opus East Memphis. Now, finally, what makes Dixon Gallery and Gardens special and unique? We've almost had a whole conversation about it, but if you really had to do just the boiler plate information here, or something that's special to you, what would that be?

- Well, you know, I think it's really the hybrid nature of the place. You know, the fact that we are an art museum and a public garden and an education vehicle, and that all three of these elements are equally important in our overall program. And it's a very rare thing, you know, and our programming reflects what a special place it is. And so being able to see amazing works of art in this beautiful natural setting is just very, very special. And I hope that our neighbors across the fence at Opus feel that way too. I'm sure they will.

- Absolutely, it sounds wonderful. Kevin Sharp, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. This is a wonderful topic, of course, and your programs I think are gonna help so many people and provide joy.

- Yeah.

- To so many people. And we hope that those people will be our future residents there at Opus East Memphis. Thank you so much for being here today.

- Well, thank you, Melissa. It was great talking to you.

- Yeah, thank you. And the name once again, Dixon Gallery and Gardens located in Memphis, Tennessee. For those of you watching, who are interested in calling Opus East Memphis, maybe you wanna call it home. Please feel free to contact us at 763-6921. We thank you so much for watching Senior Living Live. Have a great day, everybody.

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