In celebration of The Longest Day, two friends who met as Broadway-bound dancers come together in creativity in the fight to end Alzheimer’s through their event “Arts for Alz.”
Taylor McMahon and Adam Wedesky met through New York theater industry dance circles, taking classes at major studios including the Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway. As they learned more about each other, they discovered something else they had in common: family connections to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. As they began to brainstorm ways to work together, they thought: What better way to raise funds and awareness for the Alzheimer’s cause than through dance?
The pair decided to produce a night of artistic performance, as part of The Longest Day, an event where people across the country raise awareness and funds to support the work of the Alzheimer’s Association on the summer solstice. Since 2018, “Arts for Alz” has been an annual performance showcasing the work of many. “We have had such a wonderful group of dancers at our disposal; beautiful, kind people with their own personal stories, who fully dedicate their time and energy to everything they do,” Taylor says. “Our event has been beautiful since its inception: art for all people, all types of art.”
And as Taylor and Adam have grown as artists in the theater community, that has been mirrored in the “Arts for Alz” community. “I feel like we are growing exponentially, collectively raising nearly $10,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association,” says Adam. “And the more people who hear about what we are doing, the more they want to get involved. Every year, there are more dancers, more faces, more stories.”
A Shared Personal Passion
“My first encounter with Alzheimer's was through my maternal grandfather, when he became an everyday part of our lives,” Adam says. “Some of my most lasting memories of him are from around the time his disease was progressing.” When he was 10 years old, Adam’s grandfather moved in with his family in Texas after his diagnosis, leaving behind his home in St. Louis. “He lived with us for several years in the Dallas area before moving into assisted living and ultimately passed away several years later,” Adam says. “The whole experience was very tough.”
Then, what seemed like the impossible happened to Adam’s family. When Adam was a junior in high school, his maternal grandmother moved in with his family after her own diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. “My mom has now taken care of both of her parents between their diagnosis and their death,” Adam continues. “Alzheimer’s is very much a part of our lives, something that is always around us.” Adam says that today, as an adult, he can better grasp what his mom took on as her parents’ primary caregiver. “I think a lot about the toll it must have taken on her. I have been living with my mom throughout the pandemic, and now more than ever, I feel connected to stories from caregivers. I watched my own parents provide care, and saw and felt the way it ripples throughout the home, affecting the entire family. I wouldn't be who I am if I didn't talk about this openly.”
Taylor’s maternal grandmother experienced dementia later in her own life, something Taylor didn’t see up close, having moved to New York less than a year earlier. “My mom took on the major caregiver role prior to us losing my grandmother in summer of 2017. Then, in early 2020, my grandmother’s sister, my great-aunt Gigi, also passed away.” Although her great-aunt had no official diagnosis, the family suspected that dementia played a role. “I don’t want to see this disease affect any other family the way it has ours,” Taylor says.
From Stage to (Computer) Screen
Communication between the artists and the audience and the conversations that were happening about Alzheimer’s onstage are what Adam and Taylor loved most about their live dance events for The Longest Day in 2018 and 2019. It was something they wanted to replicate with their virtual 2021 event as the pandemic continued to put normal life on hold.
The 2021 “Arts for Alz” event for The Longest Day, the virtual showcase “Memories: The Moments That Make Us,” was two nights of virtual artistic performance. In collaboration with choreographers like Hamilton’s Stephanie Klemons and other performers and videographers, the showcase weaved storytelling through various styles of dance, song and interview testimonials, including those from people who shared their own connections to Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. “Each individual choreographer worked with their dancers to create a piece, many of which were tied to a theme, such as memory or nostalgia,” says Taylor. “The show represented different backgrounds, ages, cultures, and even countries,” Adam continues, “making this showcase all the more unique and unifying in bringing awareness to the Alzheimer's cause through art.”
Putting all their passion into making their virtual show interactive and engaging, Taylor, Adam, and Rebecca Kritzer (a fellow artist with a personal familial connection to Alzheimer’s) realized that they were curating an emotional journey. “Artists — and so many others — needed a creative release of emotion after the past year. And even though I was in New York, Adam was in Texas, and our friend Rebecca, who came in to help produce the show, was in Florida, we managed to bring people together in this new way. And many of the people who attended virtually probably wouldn’t have been able to make it to our event in New York, had it been in-person.” One of those people was Adams’s dad.
“I was almost giddy that my dad had such an emotional reaction to our virtual show. Feeling my family’s love and knowing that all my hard work has made them proud was so important to me,” Adam shares. “Being able to successfully fundraise and spread awareness of this cause during what Taylor, Rebecca and I call our ‘pivot year’ is something to celebrate. We were a team of three with no budget, and yet we were able to get so many talented people involved in our two-hour long show, with viewers from places as far as Barbados and Poland. It was a proud moment for all of us.”
As for Taylor, a reaction video her brother captured of their mom as she watched the stream of the show became one of Taylor’s most powerful new memories. “I performed a dance piece with a young woman named Jillian, who is living with Down syndrome. Our performance brought feelings to the surface that I had never seen from my mom before.
Caregivers take on so much, and even after those you love are gone, you carry that weight. Seeing it lift from my mom while she watched my performance was huge. I am glad that I was able to pay tribute to my family's legacy, and to help heal them.”
“If you are honest in the way you share your art with the world — or anything you love — you will make a difference,” Adam adds. “Take your idea and let it grow the way it needs to. Whether you are planning a future fundraiser for The Longest Day, or any event, just work hard, and trust yourself. You will find success.”
Whether you have a connection to the Alzheimer’s cause, or not, the “Arts for Alz” team hopes to shift the paradigm on how the public talks about aging, and our attitudes toward our elders. “Our grandparents and parents and all those who came before them are an extension of our family legacy,” says Taylor. “I know that I would want the generations that follow me to honor and respect my time on this planet.
Through our events, we honor all those affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementia, and we hope other families affected by these diseases will find their own creative ways to honor the ones they love most.”
About: Created in 2018 by Taylor McMahon of Massachusetts and Adam Wedesky of Texas, in memoriam of their late grandparents, “Arts for Alz” combines their love for dance and their family stories to establish a space of creativity and community. Over the past three years, “Arts for Alz” has curated two live showcases in New York City, in collaboration with members of the Broadway and Off-Broadway community. In 2021, Adam and Taylor brought in Rebecca Kritzer, a fellow NYC artist, to produce their first virtual showcase. “Arts For Alz” has collectively raised nearly $10,000 for the Alzheimer's Association. Taylor and Adam will be hosting an in-person dance workshop on The Longest Day and are participating in another fundraising event to be held at the Cecil Steakhouse in New York on June 23. Follow the team on Instagram for updates and how to get involved.