See Me at the Smithsonian is a program for adults with dementia and their care partners. – Robin Lynne Marquis, Community Outreach Coordinator


“Beautiful, young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

Artists understood that an art piece helps both the artist and the viewers. Access Smithsonian is a catalyst for a consistent, integrated, and inclusive design that provides meaningful access to the Smithsonian Institution Museums and content for visitors with disabilities – of all ages.

Today’s episode of This Is Getting Old is part of the University Seminar Series   and the Age-Friendly Ecosystem work we’re doing at the George Washington University Center for Aging, Health and Humanities, and today we are focusing on the role of Arts and Creativity in aging. I’ve invited two guests to share the See Me at the Smithsonian initiative – Robin Lynne Marquis, Community Outreach Coordinator for Access Smithsonian and the See Me Program; and Amy Castine, is Lead Educator for these programs. Join us for another age-friendly discussion on making life easier, happier, safer, and meaningful for older adults.

Part One of ‘See Me at the Smithsonian’.

Access Smithsonian: What Is It All About?

The Smithsonian, founded in 1991, is the central office for all of the 19 museums, National Zoo, and research centers for the Smithsonian units.

On the internal museum-facing side, they advise museums on policies, practices, and procedures for the staff, including training and advising the exhibition teams on inclusive design.

Externally, they provide the best experience for visitors with disabilities. They also host internships for students with intellectual disabilities and engage with communities in the local area and nationwide to join or visit museums and meet their needs.


Access Smithsonian is a catalyst for a consistent, integrated, and inclusive design that provides meaningful access to the Smithsonian Institution Museums and content for visitors with disabilities.


To be recognized for excellence as an Institutional and international resource for inclusive museum facilities, programs, and services. People with disabilities who visit will view the Smithsonian Institution as relevant, accessible, and valuable.


  • Policy, Practices, and Procedures
  • Training and Education
  • Programming
  • Community Engagement
  • Inclusive Design
  • Access Services
  • Internships

Morning at the Museum is a sensory-friendly program
for families with children and adults with autism spectrum.
– Robin Lynne Marquis, Community Outreach Coordinator

Inclusive Programs:

Morning at the Museum is a free, sensory-friendly service for families of children, teens, and young adults who have developmental disabilities, autism, sensory processing problems, or other cognitive deficiencies.


Project SEARCH Smithsonian Institution is a ten-month internship program that encourages young adults with intellectual and cognitive disabilities to learn employable and marketable career skills.

The User Expert Advisory Group of the Smithsonian Institution is a partnership between Access Smithsonian and the Institute for Human-Centered Design. User Experts are Persons with disabilities who have gained skills from their lived experience of coping with environmental issues attributable to a bodily, sensory, or cognitive functional disability.

At Smithsonian Institution museums, user experts assess the usability and functionality of physical spaces, museum exhibitions, public facilities, technology, and facilities. Besides, user experts educate Smithsonian employees, interns, and volunteers on inclusion, diversity, and usability.


See Me at the Smithsonian is a hands-on program for dementia patients and their caregivers. Pre-registered members (8-10 persons) discover some of the Smithsonian’s most precious artifacts through small group interactions and multi-sensory exercises on scheduled weekdays.

See Me provides intellectual stimulation, socialization experiences, and the opportunity for loved ones to share quality time in a comfortable atmosphere.

Since May 2020, to adapt amid COVID, the program has been thoroughly transitioning to virtual See Me programs. Five museums have hosted virtual programs through Zoom to date  and intend to do so in the future.

Programs are conducted from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. On request, virtual programming for wider audiences in neighborhood locations is possible.

If you’re older and frail, you don’t have much energy even physically and cognitively; going virtual does eliminate a lot of these hurdles. – Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FGSA, FAAN

You can check on this website link HERE to learn more about the See Me at the Smithsonian Program.

Part Two of ‘See Me at the Smithsonian’.

More About See Me at The Smithsonian … 

The History of the Program: 

See me at the Smithsonian was an idea that began in 2016. An advisory committee was formed at that time, and folks who are experts in the field or have contact with people living with dementia formulated best practices and the ideas of how they wanted it to go forward.

Staff training began in September 2017, and the goal was to establish the accommodations and responsibilities as a museum and people working with the elder and disabled population. They had their pilot program with the National Portrait Gallery in October 2017, and from then on, it’s been onward and upward.

What The See Me at the Smithsonian Program is Today?

The See Me at the Smithsonian program was able to expand to include the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Museum of African Art, and the National Museum of Asian Art: Freer and Sackler. From there, they start providing programming in a range of different subject matter areas so that folks can choose what is most interesting to them.

In the last two years, even before COVID happened, the brains behind the program recognized the need to expand the relationships to working within the community. These communities include senior residences, senior centers, villages, any social space where older adults are coming together and letting these folks know that they have a program for them. The goal is to prevent people from absent-mindedly wandering into a museum and letting them know that they could come to the free program.

Shifting to the Virtual Space:

Due to the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Smithsonian’s New York Regional Council, they’re able to continue to expand even as they move into the virtual space through COVID. It’s a meaningful, joyful experience for the organization to offer a better and broader range of topics for older adults and their caregivers to enjoy.

Since COVID, they’ve been offering programs to older adults within their actual residences or through their networks because they know that some of the most isolated people right now are in these places.

See Me en Español Launched in March:

In March of this year, they started the program in Spanish—that’s been a big dream of the organization for many years now. Carmen Pastore, the lead educator, leads the team, and they’re now providing the program in Spanish.


There’s an intellectual and creative stimulation that
comes with the See Me at the Smithsonian program.

– Amy Castine, Lead Educator


What Will You Experience at The See Me at the Smithsonian Program?

The experience was much like what anyone would experience when they came into a museum where they would meet at a central location and then move toward art pieces. The most significant difference for older adults is that we’re slowing down and looking at fewer objects. Below are some of the examples of the activities you’ll experience at the See Me at the Smithsonian Program.

  • Close Looking

“A typical tour would be 8-10 objects in an hour. But for our older adults, we recognize that processing times are different, and the ability to move from one place to another is a little different.

We want to make sure that the program meets their needs exactly as they are. We would look at two or maybe three objects in the gallery and spend our time doing “close looking.”

Instead of just glancing at an object, we would sit and take a deep breath and relax for a moment and spend a minute just looking, without speaking, without any interpretation, and then move to ask, “What do you see in the object?”, “What is the mood of this piece?, What is it bringing up for you?” These are meaning-making that we participate in when we look at the objects,” says Lead Educator Amy Castine.

  • Collaboration with Arts for the Aging

The organization also partnered with Arts for the Aging, a local Washington, D.C. organization. One of the things that they add to the programing is participating with artists; they may be visual artists, musicians, poets, or storytellers.

In the process of looking at an artwork, say, looking at a screen at Asian Art of the Tales of Genji, a storyteller will tell a little story that’s not just about the object itself but take the ideas that the participants generate and weave those into a tale of their own.

If you’re interested in reaching out to Arts for the Aging, you can connect with them at:

  • Hands-on Creative Stimulation Activities

One instance shared by Amy Castine is looking at the Big Egg at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Working with a teaching artist, the materials that older adults and their caregivers happen to have on hand, whether that’s wrapping paper or tissue paper or pens of different colors, highlighters, are used to create their big egg. So there’s intellectual stimulation that comes with this, but there’s also creative stimulation.

How To Connect With
Access Smithsonian?

Connect with educators or learn more about Access Smithsonian by following this link to their profiles below …

You can also email them at and they will route your email to the right place!

About Robin Lynne Marquis, Community Outreach Coordinator:

Robin Lynne Marquis has over a decade of experience leading initiatives, programming, and community collaborations with institutions of all sizes and people of all ages. She currently serves as the Community Outreach Coordinator for See Me at the Smithsonian and as the Accessibility Coordinator for The Peale Center. As an artist with a disability, Marquis is part of a national network of thought leaders shaping the conversation about accessibility in the arts while contributing to local efforts that combine creativity, education, and activism to achieve positive social change.

About Amy Castine, Lead Educator:

Amy Castine is an art historian and visual artist. She engages with people living with dementia and their care partners using visual arts and historical objects to facilitate conversation and encourage cognitive stimulation. As the lead educator for the See Me at the Smithsonian program since 2017, Amy collaborates with the staff of several Smithsonian museums to coordinate, plan, and deliver programs for individuals with dementia who are aging in place in the greater Washington DC area.

She has also developed and implemented a training program for museum docents interested in facilitating dementia-friendly programs. Amy contributes to the Just Us program at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, focusing on individuals with dementia and their care partners. In her free time, Amy enjoys painting, creating one-of-a-kind beaded jewelry pieces, and teaching



Join AgeWiseU Today!

AgeWiseU is a hub of digital courses with curated resources and video content – PLUS an interactive community for caregivers of people living with dementia, adult children caring for aging parents, anyone wanting to learn more about brain health, and people who want to learn more about staying healthy as they age.

About Melissa:

Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FGSA, FAAN. I am a nurse, nurse practitioner, nurse educator and nurse researcher with over 25 years of experience in the aging and long-term care healthcare space. You can visit my website at to learn more about me, how you can work with me directly,
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