By Rana El Kadi, Direct[Message] Research Lead & TJ Charlton, Direct[Message] Project Manager
Direct[Message] is a collaborative community arts project based out of Southern Ontario and generously funded by the Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund. The project was born in 2019 after a group of artists, researchers, and engineers decided to address the gap in accessible, inclusive artistic programming for older adults from under-served communities.
Before the pandemic started, studies showed that one third of Canadian seniors were at risk of experiencing social isolation, which negatively impacts health. And although participating in artistic programs is known to dramatically improve seniors’ social connection and wellbeing, research shows that Canadians who belong to the senior, visible minority, and disability communities have lower arts participation rates than others. So how can we use the arts to decrease seniors’ social isolation and improve their wellbeing, especially during times of pandemic?
The Direct[Message] team believes in the power of intergenerational collaboration, reciprocal learning and knowledge exchange. That is why we’re reaching out to community members in Hamilton, Guelph and London. We need your help to research and co-design digital applications and physical devices that would make it easier for older adults to access and participate in interactive artistic programs. Our initial focus was on live video streaming technology, and how galleries, museums and other arts organizations can use this technology to reach audiences beyond their physical spaces. Now with social distancing measures in place, there seems to be an even greater urgency to develop and test innovative online platforms that can provide virtual artistic programming to the community. We have also expanded our definition of the “arts” to include any activity that seniors consider creative (such as gardening, cooking, chair yoga, virtual reality experiences, etc.).
Physically distanced Zoom interviews with the project's Community Consultants: Maggie Perquin (top left), Kathy Smith (top right), Richard Claus (middle left), Rana El Kadi (middle right), Suad Badri (bottom left), and Wilamina McGrimmond (bottom right)