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Q & A on Arts-Based Action Research with Melanie Schambach, Brittany Jakubiec, and Celeste Pang

April 2023

Interviewed by Dr. Ashley Flanagan

Dr. Celeste Pang is a Senior Research Officer at Egale Canada, where her research focuses on 2SLGBTQI aging, health, and housing issues. 

Dr. Brittany Jakubiec is the Director of Research at Egale Canada, where their work focuses on 2SLGBTQI health and employment issues. Learn more about research at Egale here Research – Egale.

Melanie Schambach is a social artist who facilitates participatory paintings with public groups to explore questions of identity, belonging, and possibilities for social change. For more on Melanie’s work, see Social Arts | Melanie Schambach, Participatory Paintings 

Q: Tell us about Fostering Dialogues and how it came to be.

Fostering Dialogues grew out of a number of conversations and ideas. Both LGBTQ+ older adults and personal support workers (PSWs) face challenges working in and accessing homecare. These challenges include the low pay and precarious working conditions of many PSWs, and among LGBTQ+ older adults fears of homophobia, transphobia, and unsafety in receiving homecare. These challenges are rooted in systemic under-valuing of care work, ageism, ableism, racism, and cisheterosexism, among other social conditions. We wanted to bring a group of PSWs and LGBTQ+ older adults together to learn about one another’s experiences and discuss ideas of home, care, and futures of community-based care. We had been looking for ways to do more arts-based research and knew of Melanie’s amazing participatory artwork. So, we took this opportunity to bring our interests together and design this 12-week arts-based action research project. We secured from a CIHR Catalyst Grant to run the research, including to offer participant honorarium, purchase art supplies, and to pay Melanie as the artist collaborator.

Q: Can you tell us more about the collective digital mural that was created during this project? 

Over the project period, participants used art and storytelling to explore concepts of home and care. Guided by the social artist (Melanie), participants conceptualized the overall image of the mural by engaging in dialogue, envisioning visual translations, and providing feedback on preliminary sketches. The overall image was split into 40 sections, and participants selected at least two sections to fill with their art. Through poetry, visualizations, metaphor, sensory exercises, and emotive activities, participants gained creative tools to represent their message in visual form. One section was dedicated to depicting the present reality of home and care, while the second section focused on portraying a hopeful future of care.

At an individual level, the creative process can effectively develop sensory awareness, strengthen confidence, and build a sense of motivation. On a communal level, creating a collaborative art piece can increase the group’s wellbeing by engaging together on a common goal. The process is highly relational, opens space to learn from different ways of knowing, and fosters a sense of belonging and community connection. Being creative is also stepping into the unknown, embracing failure as learning, and peeling layers into authenticity. This can invite participants to step into their vulnerability and, subsequently, open space for empathy and understanding among the group. This horizontal method of co-creating can challenge mindsets and behavior that maintain structural inequity. Co-creating highlights voices often misheard or misrepresented, reveals power structures, and reinvents the narratives that shape participants’ value systems.

Q: Can you tell us more about arts-based action research and the potential of this methodology for transforming research and practice? 

In a broad definition, arts-based action research is research that involves arts as a basis for inquiry and knowledge production. It is often combined with different qualitative research approaches. In this case (as described above), we crafted a 12-week program of engagement that revolved around themes of home, care, and futures of community-based care. We alternated sessions between a primary focus on dialogues and a primary focus on artmaking, although these were blended all the way through.

We found that this methodology was impactful in a number of ways. For one, it really opened for exploration and for shared vulnerability. Some participants had prior experience in the arts, as writers, performers, and visual artists, while others had none. We witnessed how engaging in artmaking together and opening opportunities to share thoughts, feelings, and intuitions through colors, shapes, and images rather than only words expanded the horizons of where we could go. Reflecting on participants’ pieces and the artmaking process also shaped what was shared in the dialogue sessions, as participants came to different self-understandings of their situations and could relate to one another in different ways. Arts-based action research is powerful in its focus on process, and increasing our senses of connection, understanding, and envisioning of other possibilities (in this case, for futures of care).

Q: What are some of the key aspects of home, care, and futures of care that you hope resonate with the audience? 

So many things! One of the important conversations that came up around home are the many different experiences and meanings that people connect with the idea of home. For some participants, home was very importantly a physical place, somewhere where they could feel comfortable and invite in friends and families of choice. For LGBTQ+ older adults, this was especially important in light of experiences of unsafety in past homes and in the world at large. For others, home was mainly a feeling, such as feelings of comfort, of coming into oneself, and of the smells, pace of life, and landscapes of home countries. This adds many layers to a common recognition in homecare of homes as sites of living and as sites of work at the same time.

In terms of futures of care, we hope that people who read the report and interact with the mural will be inspired to reflect on our current conditions of care, to imagine what else could be, and to take action. Many people want to age in their own homes. There needs to be more funding for homecare, to make this a viable option and to properly pay and support care workers. 

Q: Where can people go to view the interactive mural and report?

The interactive mural and report can be viewed at: