In 2021, during COVID, Clare Arts Office launched Visual Voices, a series of free online art tours specifically available to people of older age in Clare. This opportunity come about thanks to funding from the Creative Ireland Programme.
Visual Voices links a number of projects and programmes by Clare County Council in the area of Arts and Health in Clare to deliver an in-depth programme of online visual arts experiences to older people who may have difficulty accessing galleries and exhibition spaces in Clare. It is based on Age and Opportunity’s ‘Azure’ Programme which was developed in collaboration with the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Dublin and inspired by the highly successful art tours ‘Meet me at MoMA’ running for many years for those living with dementia and their carers’, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
The Arts Office of Clare County Council has over two decades of experience in running Arts in Health programmes in residential and day care settings in the County, and has invested in training and supporting talented artists working in this field. They have worked closely with Age and Opportunity and IMMA to upskill key practitioners in the delivery of arts and health programmes, most recently the Azure programme.
The aim of Visual Voices is to bring online gallery talks to older people county-wide generally and also specifically to dementia suffers in residential and non-residential settings in the County. The project has been developed in line with the forthcoming Age and Opportunity Arts and Creative Charter, aspiring to best practice in working with older people.
A series of virtual visual art tours were delivered by trained artist/ facilitators through a number of organisations in Clare. In person tours resumed when restrictions lifted in galleries and cultural venues, to the delight of all involved
There are a number of strands to the programme.
Strand 1 – Cultural Companions:
The programme will be offered to all members of ‘Cultural Companions, Clare’, a network of older people, facilitated by the Community Department of Clare County Council, interested in arts and cultural events and activities. Cultural Companions offers increased opportunities for older people to engage with the vibrant arts and cultural scene in Ireland and more locally in County Clare. The network enables members to meet new people and enjoy all that Irish arts and culture has to offer. Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions it was not possible to access arts events, exhibitions and activities, so this new initiative offered members an accessible way of engaging with art online. The online tours provided a chance to look at, and respond to, selected artworks from major public art collections, including Clare County Council’s Art Collection, enabling people to share views and ideas with others in the group. The virtual art tours were designed to be inclusive for everyone, whatever their background or previous interests. Even if they have not taken part in visual arts events before, this was a chance to try it, from the comfort of home.
Artists Sara Foust and Marie Connole, guided participants through a selection of interesting artworks, encouraging conversation and responses to each work. The online sessions offered an opportunity to socialise, build relationships and forge friendships with others, through a shared interest in art. There was great excitement when the group could meet in person.
If you would like to participate in Cultural Companions please contact Helen Moloney 065 6846240 or email Helen at email@example.com
Strand 2 – Residential Settings:
The second strand of the programme offered the same opportunity to people living with dementia throughout the County. The aim was to make art more accessible by exploring how people with dementia-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s, and the people who care for them, can participate in cultural activities.
A series of dementia friendly art events took place in three residential settings across the county; Raheen Community Hospital (where a successful pilot scheme has been running since January 2021), St Joseph’s Hospital in Ennis and Carrigoran House Care Centre, Newmarket -on-Fergus.
The tours were delivered by Azure trained visual artists Will O’Kane, Eleanor Feely (actress and artist in residence at St Joseph’s Hospital, Ennis, who has been delivering dementia gallery tours in glór, for a number of years, pre-COVID) and Nicola Henley, Arts Coordinator at Raheen Day Care Centre.
Strand 3 – Alzheimer’s Society Ireland (ASI)
The third strand was open to all to through The Alzheimer’s Society Ireland (ASI), Co Clare, many of whom have been adversely affected by forced closures of Day Centres. Sessions were set up through the outreach network of ASI who were providing ‘Day Care at Home’ and ‘Home care’ help to people living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia and their carers. These one-hour long sessions with trained dementia inclusive facilitator, Nicola Henley, who guided participants through a selection of artworks, actively encouraging conversation and responses to each work.
Visual Voices is planning a collaborative project with a group of older people from the community. Together they will curate an exhibition of selected artworks from Clare County Council’s Art Collection, creating a virtual exhibition which will be hosted on Clare County Council’s website arts section, which will be a tool to encourage people to take part in the Visual Voices programme along the way.
It is hoped that by enabling people through Visual Voices to meet in groups online over a shared interest, identifying those with an appetite (burgeoning or established) for the visual arts, that this will help to give participants greater confidence to consider doing other cultural activities, online themselves and will also encourage people to re-connect and to start planning for when social activity based around the arts and gallery visits in the post-COVID era can take place again.
For further information or to get involved please contact Nicola Henley, Visual Voices Coordinator, Co Clare firstname.lastname@example.org or call Clare Arts Office at 065 6899091