interACTS Supports Elders and Artists Alike


Courtesy of Oberlin Center for the Arts

Short-form digital Postcards are among the ways artists can share their work with older adults through InterACTS.

As older adults face isolation, a new community initiative is working to bring the vibrant local arts scene to their homes. The Oberlin Center for the Arts has launched interACTS, a program that virtually connects elders across Northeast Ohio with art and stories from their community. 

interACTS is the result of a partnership between OCA and the Oberlin-based production company StoryLens Pictures. As the program grows, the goal is to build a foundation for long-term connections between artists and older adults. The initiative seeks submissions and commissions for digital performances and educational content. In addition to helping elders, it also provides artists with a platform to continue creating during COVID-19. 

Since interACTS launched in May, it has already amassed a wide variety of performance submissions. According to Executive Director of the OCA Darren Hamm, the hope is that these performances will help alleviate some of the negative effects of long-term isolation.

“What we were hearing from [the Center for Disease Control and Prevention] was that isolation can promote about a 50 percent increased risk of dementia and around 30 percent increased risk of stroke and heart disease,” Hamm said. “So we thought, ‘How do we take what we’ve been doing and mold it, manipulate it in a way that we can still deliver it, and target older adults?’ interACTS was really born as a means of working in the space we were thrust into and being explicit about who we wanted to serve.”

The OCA videos will be broadcast in local senior care communities in collaboration with the Oberlin Cable Co-op and made available online. The content includes musical, theatrical and dance performances; talks on art, culture, and heritage; StoryLens documentary films, and the Postcards project — short-form videos submitted by community members that share art and messages of hope. 

One of StoryLens’ roles in interACTS is to create films and help facilitate the technological aspect of the program. 

“I’ve long wanted to expand our educational outreach,” said Geoff Pingree, director, and co-founder of Storylines and professor of cinema studies. “We haven’t had the time or the people before to deal with more community members, helping them learn how to use media.. … It very comfortably fits within what our mission is, which is to use art to heal communities, and to use the film stuff we have to make something change.”

One of StoryLens’ interACTS projects is a short documentary film about Lorain’s North Pointe Ballet, a non-profit whose mission is to make classical ballet accessible to Northeast Ohio. According to Artistic Director and Founder Janet Strukely-Dziak, the interACTS initiative has helped the organization continue that work amidst COVID-19. 

“Having the artists witness the direct positive impact that our performances have on the aging community serves as motivation to continue to fight for our art form’s relevance in today’s world,” Strukely-Dziak said. “As dancers, we make so many sacrifices to be able to do what we love. Knowing that those sacrifices are able to reach the most vulnerable sector during these unprecedented times is not only rewarding but motivates and inspires us to continue.”

The Oberlin Conservatory and its staff have also been heavily involved in interACTS. Performing violinist and Associate Dean for Academic Support Chris Jenkins described how musicians have rallied around this initiative.

“Those in a position to make videos are really benefiting from the opportunity to share their music with others while live performance is not possible,” Jenkins wrote in an email to the Review. “It’s great to have such an impact on such a vulnerable group. … There is no replacement for … having the opportunity to interact on a personal level, as well as a musical level.”

interACTS’ community care strategy also includes the Story Explorer volunteer program, in which volunteers participate in weekly phone calls with older adults. During a phone call, a volunteer will check in with their partner and talk about an interACTS piece. 

The initiative has already received positive feedback from both artists and audiences, and OCA and StoryLens plan to expand and strengthen their programs to benefit the community for as long as possible.  

“The pandemic pushed us into this space, but the work we’re designing is supposed to be pandemic-proof,” said Hamm. “It should be rendered throughout the pandemic, especially because of the depth of social isolation that older adults are facing. But we are anticipating this to be a very long-term effort of ours and really be an anchor of where we want to be working and proving the impacts of arts and culture.” 

To get involved with interACTS, you can submit a Postcard, volunteer as a Story Explorer, or donate to OCAS.