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Regional Arts Development Central West NSW

Getting art into aged care during Covid

We adapted our work in aged care to bring  interactive, remote arts experiences to residents at Oberon and Grenfell MPS.

In 2018 Arts OutWest began pilot programs with Oberon MPS and then in 2020 with Grenfell MPS.

An MPS is a Multi-Purpose Health Service that includes aged care residential facilities, typically in smaller regional towns.

Pre-Covid-19 the arts programs had included weekly art making or music activities, utilising paid artists working alongside health care staff and a team of wonderful volunteers. Activities were particularly designed to be accessible for residents with dementia, which has been an ongoing interest of Arts OutWest’s arts and health program.

Above: 2019 and early 2020 work at Oberon MPS

In Oberon, Oberon Arts Council is a partner in delivery of the visual arts program and they have been successful in gaining funding for an art work hanging system, framing of work, materials and presenters fees.

Arts OutWest arts and health coordinator Christine McMillan said that Covid-19 restrictions necessitated changes to the activities but also an increased need for residents to connect with family and others in the community.

“There’s no doubt that aged care residents and their families have felt the isolation of the Coronavirus restrictions,” Ms McMillan said.

“At Oberon MPS in 2020 we’ve been alternating weekly activities between art making and discussion and music. These have been delivered over health conferencing, with residents recently accessing ipads,” Ms McMillan said.

Health has this year received a grant to supply MPSs with ipads to help residents be connected and engaged and these are now being used to deliver the arts activities.

Work has now also resumed at Grenfell MPS, using the same technology set up.

Image: Art making video conference session into Oberon MPS in July 2020.

In one of the art activities in Oberon, Ms McMillan used Arts OutWest’s new ‘Culture Maps’ website to take residents on a virtual tour of public art around Oberon. This was part of a discussion about modern sculpture, drawing parallels with the local art work commissioned by Oberon Arts Council at the Oberon Common.

“This was especially appreciated by residents who has not been able to leave the MPS for some time and enjoyed seeing special things in their town,” Ms McMillan said.

In the fortnightly music activities at Oberon MPS, harpist Martyn Cook has been telling stories, one about Oberon ‘the king of the fairies’, and playing songs. Musicians Simone and Blair Gough have been working weekly at Grenfell MPS. With ukulele and guitar they have been spinning stories about a pub with no beer and other classics like Elvis and the Beatles for the entertainment of residents.

Some feedback from residents, staff and families on the program:

“It makes him happier. He wasn’t well and you came and look he is smiling. It even makes a difference the next day”

“I was excited that he was happy, smiling and laughing. This was a departure from his mood the days before. He too was part of the group”

“I had no expectations that the art workshops would have had such a dramatic impact on the participants.”

Arts OutWest has a Memorandum of Understanding with Western NSW Local Health District who own and manage the network of 25 MPSs caring for 420 residents. The organisations are in plans to roll out these activities across the wider Western NSW region. This will be in partnership with two other regional arts development organisations, Orana Arts and Outback Arts.

The MPS facilities are vital in many small regional towns for keeping people in their home towns and close to friends and communities when they enter aged care. The training delivered through the arts programs assists activities staff upskills and deliver quality programs; enriched quality of life for residents has health and mental wellbeing outcomes; and both assist in the long term viability of the MPS model across regional areas.

Project partners are Arts OutWest, Western NSW Local Health District, Oberon Arts Council with funding from Oberon Council, Veolia-Mulwaree Trust, Essential Energy and the Mazda Foundation.