Art Without Boundaries Association has been certifying representational artists in MnemeTherapy ® to help improve the quality of life for individuals with Autism, Alzheimer’s disease and other related disorders of the brain. Some people confuse this painting-based therapy with art therapy, which is a psychological process. MnemeTherapy uses painting, movement and color to work directly with the brain using neuroplasticity to make lasting improvements. Enjoy this informative article about the background, therapy and opportunity available in the United States.
Unique non-profit changes lives one painting at a time.
Noell Hammer Background, Founder of Art Without Boundaries Association and MnemeTherapy
Noell Hammer sat at her desk in a dimly lit office on the basement floor of a non-descript brick office building. The fluorescent bulb above was hissing and threatened to go out. “What am I supposed to be doing?” she said aloud, but no one answered.
The week before she had been hired as Executive Director of the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “I was thrilled,” she recalls, “then I got to the office and reality happened.” The chapter had been unstaffed for over six months and was running seriously in the red. Most of the board of directors had abandoned ship and the remaining two members were getting desperate.
“Nothing to do, but to start digging and find out what’s what,” Hammer said. What she found was a fundraiser scheduled for the next month. Since the last one had actually lost money, she knew she better come up with a better idea.
As a result of what she called, “a lack of adult supervision,” Hammer planned a fundraiser that would ‘get some attention.” She wrote a murder mystery called “Murder on the Atlantic” which took place on a cruise ship in the 1920’s. The participants, who came in costume, were confined to the dining room while the “investigation” took place around them. There was even a silent auction of paintings, just like she had seen on other cruise ships.
That’s where our story takes a sharp left turn. The murder mystery fundraiser was a roaring success, but it was the selling paintings that stole the show. They were painted by Alzheimers’ patients.
“I thought, why not?” Hammer related. “So I bought the supplies and just went around to the nursing homes in our territory. It never occurred to me that it wouldn’t work. I figured if they didn’t remember they weren’t an artist that they would just have fun. And they did.”
Several papers ran prominent stories about local resident’s paintings being chosen and the celebration began. “We got so much press and attention about the auction, that the following year we decided to forget the murder mystery and just focus on the paintings,” Hammer said. “They were really pretty amazing.”
That decision was the first domino in the series of events that led to the inception of The Art Without Boundaries Association. “I painted with patients in every nursing home, assisted living and adult day care in our six county area. I painted three days a week, working with 5-10 patients per day over a three year period. When I did the math, I was blown away. That’s over 3,000 patients. Somebody better call Guinness World Records people,” she laughed.
The auction grew into The Making Memories Gala that celebrated not only the paintings, but the lives of the artists. Some facilities dressed their ‘celebrities’ in fancy dresses and tuxedos and brought them to the Gala in limos. Artists who were able, sat beside their painting at the reception and greeted guests. Participants enjoyed reading the stories behind the paintings. The artist’s reception was followed by a live auction and all artists received a framed print and a certificate.
But there was another surprising result of working with so many different people, Hammer began to see a pattern. “If the patient had good verbal skills, they swirled their paint brush. If they didn’t, they painted straight. I wanted to know why.”
But before she could find out, her successful run came to an abrupt full stop. Due to changes on the national level of the Alzheimer’s Association, her six county territory was “absorbed” by a larger Chapter and the office closed.
Hammer recalls: “I was devastated that the new board decided to drop the Making Memories Gala, even though it had raised over $100K and put us on the map. Later I heard through the grapevine that the new Executive Director told the board that I did the paintings, not the clients. It’s a good thing she never came to watch the process, or AWBA never would have happened. It would have belonged to them. As it happened, it’s documented in the board minutes that it was dropped before I left. That’s a God-thing.”
But the “program” did not ‘go gentle into the good night.’ “I really missed working with the patients, so after we moved to Florida, I started doing the painting as a private practice,” Hammer explained. “I never called it a therapy, because we only just painted. So now I could start finding out the “why.” That was the beginning of MnemeTherapy.®
Hammer had three dramatic improvements that convinced her this new way of painting was worth exploring. A man in a wheelchair exclaimed during the session that his vision “turned right side up.” His stroke had affected his vision and he had been seeing everything upside down. The second improvement a few weeks later was a young man with Huntington’s Disease. He had full body dystonia (shaking and jerking) and was in an adult day center because his lack of muscle control prevented self-care. After just 30 minutes he had smooth movement. Hammer tracked his progress for over a year and reported that he was walking 2 miles per day and was able to work on the computer. The third dramatic improvement was a 10 year old non-verbal autistic girl who after just one session of MnemeTherapy said two, five word sentences which quickly turned into full conversations. Her mother was astounded.
The Birth of Art Without Boundaries Association
“I felt that if I could make differences like that, that I needed to figure out how to train others,” Hammer said. So in 2005 she incorporated The Art Without Boundaries Association (AWBA) and began writing the on-line curriculum.
She decided to think outside the box and create an organization that served the needs of its members instead of the typical way that nonprofits operate. “It made me sad to see how little of the donations go to actually serving people. How can a CEO sleep at night knowing someone collected money from their friends to pay their $200K+ salary?
So she created a virtual Association. “As an Executive Director, I spent so much time fundraising to keep the doors open that I decided AWBA just wouldn’t have any doors.” She also felt that a member-supported Association would be best since the membership fee and dues would be tax deductible. Members pay 10% of their MnemeTherapy income with a cap of $50 per month.
She also realized that she couldn’t be the only one training people. So she instituted the designation of Master MnemeTherapist who recruits, trains and certifies students. Since the therapy was not psychological like art therapy and only used activities like painting, singing and storytelling, we could be self-credentialing without supervision from the government. “You don’t need a license to do a painting, thank God!”
Master MnemeTherapists are paid from the Membership fee and also have the benefit of free travel. The certification week is “on the job training.” It takes place in the student’s hometown so they can work in local healthcare facilities with real people and at the same time, show the decision maker what an amazing program it is. Hammer stated that nearly all the students graduate with accounts on the books.
“It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. It changed my life,” said Dana Warwick, a 14 year MnemeTherapist from Columbia, South Carolina. “You just can’t put a price on seeing the faces of those without hope light up with joy when they create something so beautiful. I am so thankful that Noell made this available to the world.”
It’s been a rough two years, since nearly all of the members couldn’t get into the healthcare facilities due to Covid. Many have had to get other jobs to support their families.
“I couldn’t wait to get back to doing MT,” said Dori Bollinger-Thompson. 12 year Master MnemeTherapist from Chillicothe, IL “I miss my clients so much, they are like my family. It’s really my ministry. I feel as if I am passing along the love of God to the people I work with. Every day there’s a miracle.”
Become a MnemeTherapist with Arts Without Boundaries Assocation
AWBA is actively seeking compassionate artists who are skilled in representation painting. Ten matching grants have been donated that will pay for one half of the membership fee. Qualifications are good work ethic and excellent painting skills. To apply, for more information or to see if there is a MnemeTherapist near you, go to the website: artwithoutboundaries.one.
How it Became MnemeTherapy
So… inquiring minds want to know: How did you come up with the name MnemeTherapy®? “I had to come up with something since art therapy was taken,” Hammer laughed. “I knew psychology came from the Greek goddess, Psyche, goddess of the soul, so I googled and found Mnemosyne, (short name Mneme) Greek Goddess of Memory and the Mother of the nine Muses, the Patrons of the Arts. It was a perfect fit.”
MnemeTherapy uses 5 of the Muse’s superpowers: painting (art) singing, (Euterpe, Music); movement,(Terpsichore relating to dancing); storytelling (Clio, history); and praise (Polyhymnia, meaning many praises) “How cool is that?” Hammer asks, smiling. We all agree. Way cool.
About the Writer
Rebecca Montgomery is a freelance writer with the mission of promoting unique non-profit organizations. She lives in South Carolina and enjoys her grandchildren and organic gardening.