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Art, Music & Dementia

During Dementia Action Week 2020, we share a first look at our donor-enabled Art, Music & Dementia Pilot Program. See how the power of music, art, and the magic of the Opera House can make a difference.

The powerful effect of music on memory

Joyful music from a trio of classical musicians - harp, violin and flute - fills the Utzon Room at the Sydney Opera House.

A familiar tune begins, and the faces of the small audience of elderly women and men light up.

The spark of recognition is significant - the audience are residents of Montefiore aged care homes and they live with dementia.

They are here today for the Opera House’s Art, Music & Dementia pilot program, thanks to donor Dr Eileen Ong.

Dr Eileen Ong was inspired by her personal experience of dementia in the family.
The Utzon tapestry offered a beautiful backdrop for the program.

Dementia and music

Over 425,000 Australians live with dementia and the number is increasing with an aging population.

We know that music has a positive effect on the quality of life of people with dementia and their carers.

Now we are discovering that works of art, stories, and hands-on activities make the music even more powerful.

This is the exciting difference the Art, Music & Dementia pilot is exploring.

Connecting a donor’s passion with purpose

Dr Eileen Ong has enabled the pilot program, inspired by her personal experience of dementia in the family and passion for classical music. 

She also shares our belief that the Opera House is for everyone and is a long-term supporter of our access programs.

It was Eileen’s idea to combine her passion with our expertise.

Her vision and generosity brought together the Opera House’s Access team, Macquarie University dementia experts, Montefiore aged care provider, and three Sydney Symphony musicians.

Together, they created an Opera House experience for people living with dementia. 

The group used musical instruments to play along with the musicians
After the performance, participants turned to enjoy the view of Sydney Harbour.

A morning in the Utzon Room 

The team created the Utzon Room concert to be a sensory event.

They chose the music, artworks, and objects to be familiar and uplifting.

And they added story telling activities to give a voice to the participants.

The outcome was an experience designed to enhance emotional being and help ease the isolation that accompanies dementia.

“What is lovely about music and seeing events like this is that you actually feel almost as if music has a way of pulling people with dementia out of their state of solitude and igniting something in their spirit” said Opera House CEO Louise Herron, after seeing the program in action.

For now, because of COVID-19, we have paused the program. Once it is safe to do so, we look forward to developing the pilot more, to help make sure everyone in the community can have their own Opera House experience.

Art, Music & Dementia is a Sydney Opera House program in collaboration with Macquarie University Art & Engagement Program.

Sydney Opera House acknowledges Dr Eileen Ong for her vision and philanthropic support of the Art, Music & Dementia Pilot Program.

We can’t do it without you

The Opera House is not-for-profit and we raise almost 90% of our annual costs ourselves from non-government sources. 

We are only able to offer initiatives like our Art, Music & Dementia Pilot Program through the generous gifts of people like you.

Our donors make a vital difference to helping open the Opera House to everyone. With your support and generosity we will continue to develop and deliver our access programs to make sure everyone can have their own Opera House experience. 

Read more about how our donors are helping to make sure the Opera House is a place where everyone is welcome.

Our United Nations sustainable development goals

Thank you for your gift.

You play a vital role in treasuring and renewing the Opera House for future generations of artists, audiences and visitors, and ensuring the Opera House is open for everyone, for ever. See our generous donors.