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Engaging minds at Museum in Mind

Whatcom Museum and Northwest Regional Council give those struggling with memory loss an opportunity for mental and social engagement

The front entrance of Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash., on April 17, 2024. Museum in Mind takes place on the second Monday of every month. // Photo by Miles Vander Vennet

Whatcom Museum hosts Museum in Mind on the second Monday of every month, giving individuals with early-stage memory loss, and their caregivers, an opportunity to explore the current art exhibit and engage their minds.

The event takes place in the Lightcatcher Building at Whatcom Museum. The museum works in collaboration with the Northwest Regional Council to help those with early-stage memory loss retain their cognitive function and connect with a community of people in similar circumstances. 

Museum in Mind began in 2019 after several community sponsors donated to start the program. The program is based on similar memory care programs such as Meet Me at MoMA at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. 

Whatcom Museum’s first event was held February 2020 but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was put on hiatus. In 2023, Whatcom Museum and NWRC began to work together to get the program running again, and on Feb. 12, 2024, the program had its first event since the hiatus and has continued every month since. 

"Through our partnership, we hope to grow attendance by reaching people using NWRC services,” Bridget Girnus, interim education manager at Whatcom Museum said. “Although the program has started slowly, we are proud to hold a space for individuals with memory loss in our community and hope to find ways to let even more people know about this program we offer." 

As certain functions of the brain lose strength, these programs focus on engaging in social activity and art, as it helps stimulate the parts of their brain that are still preserved. 

"Anytime we are talking about people living with dementia, it's really important we focus on strengths and what is preserved, and one of the areas of the brain that we know is well preserved into the disease process is our ability to be creative and engage intuitively," Kelsey Lovik, dementia program specialist at NWRC, said.

Individuals and their caregivers who attend these events get to explore the current art exhibition, engage with each other in discussions about the pieces they've seen and end with art-making activities. 

"Participants spend several minutes looking at an artwork, sharing their thoughts and building off each other's responses,” Girnus said. “Through these techniques, we cultivate a space where all interpretations of art are valid and supported. Finally, the art-making activity allows participants to exercise their creativity, build motor skills and just have fun." 


The “National Geographic’s Greatest Wildlife Photographs” exhibit in the Lightcatcher Building at Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash., on April 17, 2024. The Lightcatcher Building gives those attending Museum in Mind open space to explore and talk with each other. // Photo by Miles Vander Vennet

NWRC believes that events like these are important in improving not only cognitive function but quality of life as well. They believe the social and creative impact that these events have can benefit the individuals attending.

"I think one of the things that helps with the quality of life is the feeling that you're doing something familiar, feeling like you're doing something well and feeling that you're contributing," Kate Massey, dementia program specialist at NWRC said.

Jackie Cavender, the caregiver of her mother who struggles with memory loss, attended the event with her mother in April. This was their first time attending a Museum in Mind event and they explored the current exhibit, “National Geographic's Greatest Wildlife Photographs.” 

"We found the exhibition beautiful and interesting. The museum educator was so patient and so informative,” Cavender said. “We not only enjoyed our time together while there, but my loved one was so taken with what she saw that we were able to enjoy talking about it for some time afterward." 

The Museum in Mind program tries to create a comfortable space for individuals with memory loss and their caregivers by closing the exhibit off to the public and giving participants a private space to explore.

"This is unusual, and we were thrilled. Because Whatcom Museum holds Museum in Mind when the museum is closed to the public, it makes parking and attending easy for us, even with mobility challenges," Cavender said. 

Museum in Mind will continue at Whatcom Museum on the second Monday of each month from 2-4 p.m. More information can be found through NWRC.

Miles Vander Vennet

Miles Vander Vennet (he/him) is a city life reporter for The Front. He is a junior transfer student and is going into the public relations major. In his free time he likes playing video games, going on hikes with his dog and playing basketball and lacrosse. You can contact him at

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