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

Virtual Art Snacks will train 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.


AOW’s partnership with Health was established in 2008. Health staff have identified improving residential environments of MPSs as a priority. Embedding creative practice through partnerships with arts organisations is one of the most effective ways in which this can be achieved.

Partnerships with National Gallery of Australia and our ongoing relationships with Charles Sturt University, Cementa and Opus Music ensure high quality delivery of services, encouraging ongoing collaboration. AOW is working with Orana Arts and Outback Arts to ensure delivery has a local component linking to local artists within a very large geographic area.

Project Rationale:

Virtual Art Snacks seeks to meet the following needs-

  • Social isolation: it has been found that even when living in a residential facility with others, many aged care residents experience social isolation and need to find shared engaging activities in which they are interested in participating. Our pilot in Oberon has shown that short arts activities are able to do this successfully with many residents – even those not previously very interested in the arts
  • Assisting activities officers in aged care who currently do not have skills or training in creative activities
  • Supporting carers and building communication between carers and residents, even if in Covid-19 lockdown.
  • Keeping older minds engaged and cognitively active.
  • Removing the barrier of high costs of creative activity in remote locations.
  • Making health settings better environments for residents and workers.
  • Developing a trained workforce of artists and health staff.
  • Testing ideas to find aged-care models that work.
  •  Set up IT in the MPS system (small rural hospitals), with screens and tablets (that are being provided by Health) and link them to carers and families in their homes.
  • Train local artists in IT skills, facilitating creative sessions online, and ongoing mentoring.
  • Train health staff so activities officers and volunteers can support art activities within the residential services.
  • Deliver interactive sessions in visual arts, photography, performance, music and virtual reality through rounds of online delivery that will be received either on the large screens within MPS or on tablets provided to residents.
  • Deliver 6 face-to-face residencies at MPS and integrate these into the daily routines of the care setting.
  • Evaluate each round of delivery and then assess and refine the delivery, using an action research cycle to find the most effective ways of delivering virtual creative sessions.
  • Finalise a full evaluation of the program
  • Publish toolkit and write up findings and disseminate.

Virtual Art Snacks will contribute to Western NSWLHD’s goal of re-inventing the MPS system as a network of high-quality care. Maintaining these MPSs as viable and successful providers will ensure that residents of these small agricultural communities can be confident of retaining these services and the jobs attached to them.

Currently Activity Officers in most MPS have limited options that they draw on to keep people occupied. Virtual Art Snacks delivery, along with the toolkit that will be developed, gives these workers a whole new support system to provide more meaningful and effective ways of engaging with residents. In this way, the MPS system is facing a process of renewal, as are the residents themselves.

The program will remove the barriers or geographic distance in providing regional communities with access to high-quality arts experiences and the documentation of the project’s successes aims to garner other financial support so that the model becomes self-sustaining without grant monies.

The pilot program that AOW have delivered in Oberon has already shown that such activities can substantially change the quality of life for these people. By embedding creative work within Western NSW LHD’s rural residential care in the MPS system a model of excellence is created that can be shared with other sites in rural Australia.

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

Funding Source: Regional Arts 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: Agency for Clinical Innovation, University of Sydney Rural Clinical School 

Timeframe: Delivered over three years – 2021-2024

Reach: Arts OutWest, Orana Arts and Outback Arts in NSW.

Delivery Mode: Online and face-face