When Christina Muscatello walks into a museum with her group, her goal isn’t to teach her group about the value of history or art–she’s there to discover what strikes them. By asking a simple question: What does this piece remind you of?

We should note that the groups she brings to places, like Roberson Museum, all have Alzheimer’s or a form of memory loss. They’re participants in her organization, The Memory Maker Project, which advocates and provides programming for people living with these diseases.

The results from these programs are pretty astounding. But one story, in particular, struck us.

It was one of the first museum tours Christina ever gave to a person with Alzheimer’s. It was with a man named Dave and his aid. Now something to note is Dave hadn’t talked to his aid in the six months they had been together.

So, Christina decided to see if Dave was able to input information by showing him two walking sticks–one with a king’s crown on top and the other very simple–and she asked Dave which one he would choose.

She expected a gesture.

He said, “I would choose the one with the king’s crown because it would mean I’m rich and powerful.”

Ok, Dave’s verbal.

And then Dave said, “Actually, I would choose the more simple one, because if I had the king’s crown, I wouldn’t know if people loved me for who I am or for what I could give to them. But I want to be remembered for my character, so I would choose the more simple one.”

So now Dave is talking quite a bit and, Christina told us, “Dave started talking about the implications of international wealth systems.”

So, why was it this moment Dave chose to speak?

Well, the difference was between asking Dave a pointed question, like “Are you married?” verses one that was open-ended, like “Which walking stick would you choose?” Christina explained that, “Dave was able to pull from [the object] what was important to him and share what was important in his life.”

Just look what happens when she posed the question: What does this piece remind you of? When standing with her group in front of a poster of Uncle Sam in our Propaganda: Selling A War exhibit.

So, next time you’re at the museum, look at a piece of art or historical object and ask yourself: What does this piece remind you of? What’s not being shown in this photograph? The point of a museum is to expand your horizons and discover what strikes you. Interrogate these works of art by focusing on one piece and tapping into your own memories. (It’ll also help you avoid gallery fatigue.)

We have an exhibit that was done in collaboration with The Memory Maker Project! It’s on view May – mid October 2018

Support provided by the general operations support grants from the United Cultural Fund, a program of the Broome County Arts Council; the Conrad and Virginia Klee Foundation; the Zoos, Botanical Gardens and Aquariums Program, administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreational, and Historical Preservation; and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.