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Digital access to the Arts: A DIRECT[MESSAGE] To older adults in Southern Ontario

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.

The Project

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.).

The project is based out of Centre[3] for Artistic & Social Practice, an artist-run centre in Hamilton dedicated to contemporary art and community building. Our partners include VibraFusionLab, an arts-based public studio that investigates multi-sensory artistic modalities in the creation and presentation of art by and for people of all abilities; Cinematronics, a special effects company owned and operated by artist and engineer Jim Ruxton; faculty members from both the School of the Arts and the Faculty of Social Work at McMaster University; and a digital storytelling hub at the University of Guelph called Re•Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice.

Get Involved

We are always looking for ways to collaborate with seniors and the broader community on this exciting project!

  • If you are between 60-75 years of age and live in Guelph, we invite you to join our team virtually as a Community Consultant. No experience is needed for this position! Community Consultants support the project by collaborating on the research process, the purpose of the digital device/application, and the recruitment of participants from their community. We encourage artists/community members who are differently abled, Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ2SIA, Newcomers, and Refugees to apply. More information and ASL vlog here.
  • If you are a Service Provider who oversees programs or provides care for seniors within non-medical facilities in Guelph, Hamilton, or London, we invite you to participate virtually in a 45-minute interview. We will ask you to draw on your professional experience to help us understand your clients’/residents’ artistic/creative interests, digital technology preferences, access to the arts, and accessibility needs. More information here.

Connect with Us

  • Stay up to date with our latest news by checking our website and subscribing to our newsletter
  • Connect with other community members and participate in our activities by liking our Facebook and Instagram pages

Please contact TJ Charlton (Project Manager) for more information: or (289)-975-8751.


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