Art, Accessibility and Cultivating Connection
Louise Campbell, community-engaged artist and musician
What does community art look and sound like in your community this year? Whether in a school, a community centre, on the front stoop or backyard, the answer to this question is likely to change multiple times in the weeks and months to come. I don’t have any answers for you – but I do know that the shift necessitated by the pandemic has pushed me and all the people I work with to ask questions, listen carefully to each other’s answers, and think creatively about how we make art.
Take the podcasting project from the C.A.R.E. Centre, a partner of the English Montreal School Board, featuring adults with severe physical disabilities, many of whom are non-verbal and use assisted forms of communication. Podcasting? With people who are non-verbal? Through video conferencing? Our initial plan was pretty different from how it’s turned out – and what is coming out is amazing.
The podcasting project Stories of Care was slated to begin in person at the C.A.R.E. Centre on March 23, 2020. As we all know, closures began on March 13. I had just gotten back from a number of flights, train trips, and public transport through Alberta and Ontario. As some of the clients at C.A.R.E. have complex health needs, it was clear that going into the C.A.R.E. Centre in person was a very bad idea. The last thing I wanted to do was to unwittingly be a carrier of coronavirus. Fast-forward a week or two to when I had a conversation with the partners in the project, Olivia Quesnel, the Executive Director of the C.A.R.E. Centre, Isak Goldschneider of Innovations en concert, and Tim Brady of Bradyworks, and we all agreed: podcasting is an ideal project to do at a distance.
Um. Okay. Now we’ve got to do this…
Luckily for me, one of the most beloved programs at C.A.R.E. is C.A.R.E. Radio, which we quickly converted to Zoom. Caregiver Bruno moved seamlessly into being a fabulous host, just as he is normally in person at C.A.R.E. while I fumbled around learning to be a Zoom DJ, giving clients, caregivers, and family members a chance to talk and see each other while sharing music from a distance. The online video platform became the bridge to our clients and a way to move forward with the podcasting project.
What really made this podcast project fly was Olivia Quesnel’s amazing ability to think creatively about how to connect with people. As a regular part of her job (Executive Director of the C.A.R.E. Centre), Olivia cultivates connections with C.A.R.E. clients using multiple platforms. She looks for the best way to communicate with each client depending on their abilities and home situations.
The necessity for connecting at a distance pushes this creativity around communication methods even further. The platform used may be one that I use daily but their method of using it may be quite different. For example, while the C.A.R.E. Centre was closed, Olivia set up a daily phone call with one of the clients during which she asked yes-no questions, to which he responded by pressing the touchpad once for ‘no’ (beeeeep) and twice for ‘yes’ (beep-beeeeeep!!). A combination of archival recordings, short instructional videos of activities for C.A.R.E clients to do at home, and recorded phone and Zoom calls between myself, Olivia, caregivers, clients, and family members gave us what we needed for a podcasting series: audio material!
There have been many, many firsts for me in this project: online arts facilitation, video editing, Zoom DJ-ing, and learning about the in’s and out’s of various communication tools used by clients at C.A.R.E. (this is the topic of multiple podcast episodes from Stories of Care). The biggest thing I will remember and treasure from this project is the power of human connection – that is, our ability and drive to connect with the people we care about.
I am absolutely grateful for the support from the musical team in this project – I could not have done this without Isak Goldschneider, Tim Brady, Nick Hyatt and Amy Horvey – and I have an immense amount of respect for the warmth and humanity shown by the clients, caregivers and families at C.A.R.E. If we can make a project like this happen on ten days’ notice, we can all continue to make music and enable the arts to happen over the course of this year. We just need to keep talking, thinking creatively, and helping each other out. Without question, there will be challenges along the way but we can do this together.
As Bruno would say at the end of a C.A.R.E. Radio episode:
Stay tuned next time for more Stories of Care. Peace!
And the chatter begins from the clients and family: That was so fun! I loved your jokes! Are you coming to the Zoom dance party tomorrow? Hey, can we do a Zoom call later? Bye, everybody! See you next time!
Listen here to the podcast series: Stories of Care
Stories of Care is produced by the C.A.R.E. Centre, Innovations en concert, Bradyworks, with funding from Quebec’s Schools Host an Artist of Culture in Schools.