Arborvitae, the Arts + Literary Journal of the UCSF Memory and Aging Center (MAC), grew out of a desire to celebrate the creative and artistic community of the MAC, especially during the challenging, exhausting and painful first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reckoning with the murder of George Floyd and systemic racism, the destructive wildfires due to climate change, and the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. During times of tumultuous change, creativity becomes a way to celebrate connection, diversity and resilience.

The MAC has a tradition of engaging in artistic expression through the Hellman Artist in Residence program, Gallery190, a partnership with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and similar collaborations. Many people with dementia discover a new passion for art as their language and memory skills decline. The language and emotions laboratories at the MAC have found enhanced creative and interpersonal skills in people with dyslexia, a learning difference that affects how the brain processes language. Healthy older adults often become more creative (or appreciative of art and music) as they age. And people working in the fields of aging and dementia care also engage in artistic endeavors. Art allows for an understanding of ourselves and the world around us and offers new channels for communicating emotions, thoughts and concepts. Sometimes this differs from the scientific approach, and sometimes there are surprising and illuminating intersections.

Whether it is a healing practice or the pleasure of engaging the whole brain, many members of the MAC family enjoy creative pursuits beyond their work. Arborvitae provides a space to celebrate and share these creative passions. The inaugural issue was produced in 2021 with the theme of “The Strange and The Known”—an acknowledgment of the concept that seeing things from a new perspective may offer new revelations.

We hope you enjoy it.