The OAF Blog

Arts and Aging – Focus by Ontario Arts Organizations

December 01, 2016


It has been an uplifting experience over the past months to discover how many Ontario arts organizations offer community outreach initiatives intended to enhance the quality of life / wellbeing of older individuals.

The range of programs cross all arts disciplines – dance, visual arts, music, theatre – providing access for people who may be increasingly unable to attend regular performances or exhibitions.

Why do this?
A growing body of research indicates that participation in arts activity is an effective way to improve health, intellectual stimulation and physical wellbeing of aging people. Research indicates:

    • Singing improves mental health and wellbeing –

    • Dance classes boost cognition, motor skills, balance, posture

    • Playing an instrument has benefits, including reducing dementia risk

    • Visual arts – viewing art, or art classes result in increased social engagement, psychological health and self- esteem

Ontario arts organizations
Examples of Ontario arts initiatives focused on the aging include, Dance Classes for People with Parkinson's – regular classes offered by the Canada’s National Ballet School. Jazz FM and the Alzheimer Society jointly offer a Tuesday morning program – Music Memory to highlight the importance music has on those suffering dementia. In Ottawa, MASC's Programs for Seniors brings professional artists in all disciplines to seniors in homes, centers and hospitals. Seniors in the Studio, a visual arts program offered by the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery stimulates the senses and mind through hands on art activities and dialogue with artists.

Benefit to artists as well
In addition to the benefits to participants, this kind of initiative benefits the artists as well as they see the opportunities to apply their creative skills in new ways. All together, these are marvelous initiatives that reconcile arts and culture with wellbeing in society.



Summer Travels - 2016

September 01, 2016

Among the arts organizations supported by the Foundation are theatre and music festivals located outside Toronto and whose programs are summer based. So this summer, I took the opportunity to visit as many as I could, seeing parts of southern Ontario I had never been to. It offers a different view to the ‘Canadian landscape’.

From Parry Sound to Gananoque, Grand Bend to Millbrook, the talent and creativity across the festivals was breathtaking. This was not ‘work’, in addition to meeting the Artistic Directors, Managers and actors, I saw a wide variety of performances. In every location,—the arts organization is a ‘presence’ in the local community, drawing in residents, visitors and tourists. Many local communities rely on the economic contributions from the arts.

It doesn’t get much better to combine being on the water’s edge in Parry Sound in July in the early evening, watching the sun set and then listening to superb  Canadian musicians at the Festival of the Sound.

Another perspective was a magical early evening northeast of Toronto in Millbrook. The 4th Line Theatre is an outdoor theatre, using farm buildings converted to seating/stage.

The production was developed from historical events in this part of Ontario and the cast (both professional and local community volunteers) used the stage and adjacent fields, blending landscape into the performance experience. 

Further east, on the St. Lawrence River, we saw the most amazing one man performance based on the life of Tom Thomson at the Thousand Islands Playhouse. We stayed over and engaged in ‘retail therapy’ on the main street of the town.

In the tiny village of Blyth, the Blyth Festival has developed a history of compelling theatre where we were challenged by a thought provoking drama – well acted and creatively staged.

After experiencing a summer Saturday evening in Kincardine with the local Pipe Band parade (30-40 strong), we drove down Lake Huron to enjoy, sing and laugh at the Drayton Entertainment Huron County Playhouse's production of Mamma Mia.

Embracing all ages, one of the lead actor’s children was performing on a smaller stage next door in a panto production of Aladdin – the arts embracing all ages!

We saw theatre in small productions in Port Dover (Lighthouse Festival Theatre) and Port Colborne (Showboat Festival Theatre), as well larger scale shows at the Shaw Festival and Stratford Festival -- ‘Breath of Kings’ two back to back performances (you can never have too much Shakespeare).

In the musical theme, I had great fun wandering festival site at Ottawa Bluesfest. This included small blues/jazz groups in an intimate stage setting as well as mingling with thousands to hear contemporary rock/rap groups!

The common denominator was a passion for excellence.  From playwrights, staging, directors, musicians, actors – the quality was high.  I came away impressed with every organization, every community.

All of this lies within a day’s drive of Toronto – it was a refreshing break to see more of Ontario, to meet playwrights, actors, musicians and be intellectually challenged and satisfied.

It was VERY clear how important the arts organizations and festivals are to the life and economy of their towns/cities. Whether it was our having dinner in the bistro across from the Blyth Festival, staying in local inns/B&B’s or being one of 40,000 attendees at one BluesFest concert, it was clear that Ontario’s our arts organizations and festivals are important contributors to their local economy – employment, taxes, generation of visitor/tourist activity and effective engage with their community.

A visible example were the teenage volunteers at Huron CountyPlayhouse selling 50/50 tickets before the performance, acting as ushers – involving the local community.

What a treat this summer was – there are still many places and arts organizations to visit and I look forward to planning next summer !



Transformation in the Arts

July 13, 2016

While the mandate of the Ontario Arts Foundation is to invest in perpetuity, i.e. for the very long term, we recognize that arts organizations, like any organization cannot exist in perpetuity based solely on past success. To continue to deliver sustained arts programs, organizations need to adapt and respond to change in their operating environment.

Transformation or Bust

Diane Ragsdale, a well know arts commentator, spoke at a 2016 Creative New Zealand Conference – her topic was titled Transformation or Bust - When Hustling Tickets and Contributions is Just Not Cutting it Anymore. It is lengthy, but a thoughtful perspective on the arts and the notion of creative transformation to be viable and successful.

She observes that the justification for the arts in western culture seems to have shifted too far in the direction of ‘measurement’ – arts as paying its way, or contributing to economic growth. It is absolutely true that the arts are strong economic contributors, but have we lost, at the political level, sight of ‘culture for sake for culture’s sake’?

Positive Transformation

Diane identifies five ways arts organizations can work to transform in a positive way and continue to engage with their communities:

  1. Let the community back in

  2. Practice radical hospitality

  3. Be the kitchen table. Be the campfire

  4. Focus on impact rather than size. Form covenants rather than contracts

  5. Create scaffolds of meaning-making rather than money-making

Each intriguingly named theme is accompanied by examples of organizations being creative and transforming themselves, or how they practice their craft and engage with their audience.

Read the full transcript here.



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