Nancy's cover image
Nancy

Nancy TINGEY

Year of Award: 1996 Award State: Australian Capital Territory Health And Medicine > Diseases, Disorders And Syndromes
Social Welfare > General
To investigate ways to use art as a therapy for people with Parkinson's Disease - USA, UK, Switzerland, Italy, Canada
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Nancy Tingey is a Canberra painter and curator. In 1996 she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to investigate ways to use art as a therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition affecting movement.

Late in 1994, following her husband’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s, Nancy founded Painting with Parkinson’s. Originally conceived as a recreational diversion for people with Parkinson’s, she soon realised that the way creative activity stimulated the brain enabled emotions and memories to be communicated in ways not possible with speech and writing once Parkinson’s had taken hold. As her scientist husband said, ‘Painting is a “Can do” activity for those who have lost abilities through developing Parkinson’s.’

On her Fellowship in 1996 Nancy travelled to Europe and North America to develop her understanding of art as a therapy for people with Parkinson’s. Significant encounters included a meeting with Dutch neurologist, Professor Lakke, whose research had revealed that creative ability is not only unaffected by Parkinson’s but even in some cases increased after diagnosis. And through talking with art therapist Ursula Hulme, founder of Conquest, an art group for physically disabled people in Surrey, England, Nancy learned that the tremor tends to die down when people with Parkinson’s become absorbed in art making. As a member of Painting with Parkinson’s said later, ‘When I am painting, I forget about the Parkinson’s, and it forgets about me.’

Nancy was also influenced by the work of Italian art therapist Attilia Cossio, whose husband, like Nancy’s, had Parkinson’s. Attilia emphasised the importance of using high quality materials, particularly watercolours, which stimulate expressive mark making. It is important for Parkinson’s artists to relax as stress exacerbates symptoms. Therefore, after observing meditation groups overseas, Nancy incorporated winding-down activities into her program, including listening to music or poetry, and yoga or tai chi movements to help the creative process to develop. And after watching an exercise class at the Struthers Parkinson’s Center in Minneapolis, Nancy incorporated rhythmic movement to ‘kick-start’ the process of painting.

Through her Churchill Fellowship Nancy was able to remodel Painting with Parkinson’s with the latest techniques from overseas. The program became so successful it influenced the establishment of other Parkinson’s groups in Australia and led to Nancy running the Parkinson’s UK Art for Parkinson’s pilot trials, which culminated in an exhibition in London combining English and Australian programs, in 2003. Two years later, Nancy gave a presentation at the First World Parkinson’s Congress in Washington.

From small beginnings, with one tutor and two members, Painting for Parkinson’s has grown to a flourishing organisation with seven facilitators, 15 participants and a waiting list. Based throughout at the Botanic Gardens in Canberra for 20 years it is the only continuously running Parkinson’s art group in the world.

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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