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Art Talk – Connecting Isolated Seniors in Conversation

May 7, 2020

Photo : John Finnigan Lin

In the fall of 2019, OAG’s Learning and Engagement team began offering monthly “Art Talk” phone calls in partnership with the Good Companions Seniors’ Center. The Art Talks are part of the Seniors’ Centre Without Walls program, which coordinates a monthly calendar full of voluntary phone-in opportunities that enrich the lives of local seniors. The goal is to keep things accessible, affordable and social, so the program is free, and all you need is a regular telephone. Information packages are sent to those who register in advance for the calls so they can come to the conversation informed.

Last month we hosted our Art Talk conversation about Russel Yuristy’s exhibition The Inside of Elephants and All Kinds of Things.These conversations typically have 10-20 people on them. A range of community members from diverse backgrounds join the hour long calls. I recognize many of the same people’s voices on the calls each month.

We chat about the artist, their life, and how their experiences have informed their work. We describe what it’s like to move through the exhibition and the kinds of work encountered, as well as impressions gathered. Presentations are informed by Curator’s notes, anecdotes, didactics, and Educational tour notes. I like to ask a lot of questions. It’s important for me to open up a conversation where participants are comfortable sharing parts of their life experiences and memories evoked by the artwork. These are my favourite moments; when ideas brought up in the work are relatable to a personal story or memory that someone shares with the group. I do my best to encourage these recounts with a genuine interest in the lives of others.

Our most recent call this month focussed on the exhibition (Re)Collecting the Group of Seven: Celebrating 100 Years, featuring key works by the Group of Seven from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art. OAG’s Learning and Engagement Coordinator Madeleine Bardou-Clark joined me on the call to present educational content as I moderated the conversation.

OAG is committed to bringing people together through art now more than ever. Though we began this initiative before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, we are continuing our efforts to brighten the lives of our elders who are isolated and in need of valuable connections to their community.

Alexis Boyle – Curator, Community Access, Ottawa Art Gallery

Join us: Phone calls take place on 4th Thursday of each month, at 12:30pm. Next dates are June 25, July 23 and August 27, 2020. Seniors who are interested in taking part in upcoming Art Talk conversations can do so by reaching out through these links:


OAG is Open from 10 AM to 6 PM Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday | from 10 AM to 9 PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Admission is always FREE. Register for Summer Art Camps!