The art of love: arts engagement as a form of relational maintenance
Griggs, Anna, author
In previous research, pro-social relational maintenance interactions have been found to lead to more satisfying relationships (Canary & Stafford, 2004). These relational maintenance behaviors may be especially important among strained relationships, like those between a caretaker and a person receiving care, where caregiver burden can drain the relationship of its joy and satisfaction (Small, et.al, 2003). Using the lens of relational maintenance and satisfaction, this project seeks to discover how community arts engagement programming may play a role in relationship maintenance between couples where one individual has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or dementia and the other serves as their primary care partner. This research puts relational maintenance, arts engagement, and caretaker responsibilities in conversation with one another to more fully realize the therapeutic and relationship-building potential of arts engagement. To do this, observational data was analyzed using Canary and Stafford's (2004) relational maintenance typology as the guiding theoretical framework. Data was collected through video-recorded observations at a four-week arts engagement workshop in partnership with the Museum of Art in Fort Collins. During these workshops, participants and their care partner were involved in mask-making classes designed to promote connection and cognitive stimulation. A total of 12 hours of data were examined for evidence of strategic relational maintenance behaviors used by both the participant and the care partner diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Through the thematic coding of the videos, I identified the extent that participants use strategic forms of relational maintenance behaviors (such as positivity, openness, shared tasks, assurances, and close networks) in their relationships and how the art classes influenced feelings of connection and closeness. This research serves as a small subset of a larger, university-wide grant funded project focus on healthy aging. Ultimately, I hope to discover the extent to which arts engagement can help or play a role in maintaining relationships. If a connection can be made between arts engagement and positive relational maintenance, an argument may be built that arts engagement's positive effects on both health and communication may be more expansive that currently highlighted in literature.