Listener-in-Residence was a collaborative project between the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Luther Court Society, a non-profit society that cares for 120 seniors through subsidized independent suites, home support, assisted living, and long-term care. It was a six-month artist residency featuring emerging Victoria-based artist Libby Oliver. She focused on developing strong relationships with the seniors, offering two different types of activities on a weekly basis.
The first activity was one-on-one sessions for the seniors to be reflective with Oliver on nearing the end of life experiences, including legacy, grief, loneliness, joy, memory, and reflection. These conversations will be situated within an object or photograph that the senior will bring with them to the discussion with Oliver. By giving space to talk about the end of life experiences, scholar Cindy Milstein explains in her book Rebellious Mourning how “we can then more openly experiment with sharing the fullness of life and help rehumanize the world.”
The second activity was developed with the group of seniors, who determined that they were interested in creating a dining room setting and eating a meal. Each week, the seniors could discuss what they would like to while eating a participant’s favourite dessert and decorating a tablecloth or making candlestick holders out of clay.
Right when Libby was photographing portraits of each senior in March 2020, COVID-19 hit and the country went into lockdown. In our naivety, we assumed at the time that the pandemic would only last a few months. But meanwhile, we realized that lockdown, which was hard for everyone, would be particularly hard on seniors, who were both more susceptible to the virus and loneliness. Libby quickly asked that while we waited for the pandemic to end, if we could start a volunteer program, where individuals could phone seniors around Vancouver Island. In a matter of a month, over 130 volunteers signed up for the program, resulting in 27 seniors and volunteers paired up. For a week, Libby and I were hounded by the media as many found the dedication of the volunteers and the needs of the seniors a feel-good story that was needed in the time. The fact that so many people would write in their volunteer application the desire to connect and provide comfort to each other made me hopeful in the bleak reality of the pandemic.