virtual art snacks
Developing a new online approach to providing arts experiences in rural residential aged care

Virtual Art Snacks trains rural artists and health workers to deliver a program of short, sequential cross-artform activities to residents and carers in aged care. The project is a piece of action research, trialling and assessing different creative online experiences, plus six face-to-face residencies.

Across the 25 small rural hospitals in this program there are aged-care residents as well as day-care users and temporary hospital patients all wanting activities that keep them occupied and respect their need to stay connected and culturally engaged. Staff are also keen to find effective ways of making their environments positive places to be. The health users of the MPS facilities have partners and carers who want to find common ground to discuss and share. Virtual Arts Snacks provides this engagement to all of these people in each of the 25 regional communities.

This program not only trains and employs local artists, it works with Health’s Activities Officers to ensure that they know how to continue supporting this work. It ensures that carers and partners living in the home can also participate in the program. Using technology opens up these small communities to being part of a cutting-edge arts project that can be a world leader. These factors all contribute to healthier, more confident regional communities able to benefit from arts-led recovery.

Our pilot program in Oberon has shown that community confidence is such that community based groups have taken on the responsibility for fundraising in order to continue and embed an arts-based program in their MPS and have increased their volunteer participation in the program.

The aim of Art Snacks is to deliver a high-quality, innovative online arts program that is responsive to COVID impacted rural aged-care facilities. The Virtual Arts Snacks Program delivered by the Regional Arts Development Organisation, Arts OutWest is a cross-sector arts in health project that employs regional creative artists to deliver online art activities to residents and carers in rural Multi-Purpose Services.  Commencing in August 2021, funded by a Regional Arts NSW, Renewal grant, the program is designed to respect aged-care residents’ need to stay connected and culturally engaged; reduce social isolation and co-create ‘liveable’ places with aged-care residents and health staff, whilst fostering diverse networks across the rural health service and broader community.

This research evaluates both tangible and intangible outcomes regarding the implementation of virtual art workshops into rural Multi-Purpose Services. Meaningful social experiences generate wellbeing and are often intangible to measure. This paper discusses how and why the regular programming of virtual art activities co-creates liveable environments and in line with the National Standards for the delivery of quality care in Multi-Purpose Services can operate as a tangible pathway to accreditation.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) using a collaborative, cyclical research process with the user-led model – plan, act, observe, reflect will be applied to evaluate the program. This will support researchers to understand and improve the lifeworld of research participants. The process will assess the effectiveness of the online delivery of arts workshops in music, visual art and performance/ movement. It will also evaluate the feasibility and success of various types of technology for delivery. The main methods used to collect data are focus groups and feedback via text message.

Navigating workforce issues regarding capacity and facilities; delivering activities to multiple sites simultaneously; and technological issues pertaining to the federal government roll-out of iPads with limited state infrastructure to support implementation.

The implementation of virtual art workshops in rural Multi-purpose Services contribute to accreditation by reducing social isolation for aged-care residents by fostering meaningful connections across diverse networks.

Can this innovative and creative approach to wellbeing be regarded as ‘essential’ rather than an ‘optional’ model of virtual care?

Christine McMillan
Christine McMillan
Arts and Health Coordinator
Kate Smith
Projects and Research Officer
Developing a new online approach to providing arts experiences in rural residential aged care

Funding Source: The Australian Government through a Regional Arts Fund Renewal Grant $119,000 with some top up (for staffing) from the NSW Government’s Restart fund.

Project Delivery: Arts Out West, rural artists and health workers

Trainers: National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Opus Music CIC (online from UK), Arts OutWest (AOW)

Partners: Arts Out West and Western NSW Local Health District 25 MPS in a cross-regional art and health collaboration and Charles Sturt University.

Research partners: Charles Sturt University , University of Sydney Rural Clinical School 

Timeframe: Delivered over three years – 2021-2024

Reach: Western NSW Local Health District (including centres covered by Arts OutWest, Orana Arts and Outback Arts).

Delivery Mode: Online and face-face

Round 1 Multi-Purpose Services participating:

  • Dunedoo
  • Oberon
  • Warren
  • Barradine
  • Nyngan
  • Blayney