Home Digital art Meet me at the mall, for art, research and science

Meet me at the mall, for art, research and science


Imagine going to a mall on a weekday afternoon. You wander through the atrium that echoes with pop music, the “For Sale” signs desperately trying to attract customers, and you find an art research lab named after Concordia.

The showcase is Concordia’s Creative engAGE Living Lab (ELL), a research lab operated as part of Concordia’s Center for Research in Aging (engAGE)’s “Meet me at the mall” project. The lab was established at the Cavendish Shopping Center in Côte Saint-Luc to help researchers and students connect with the community and gather the data needed for their theses on topics related to aging.

“Come check your balance” reads a sign at the Lab, storefront C-14 at the Cavendish Mall. What looks like a banking slogan is actually a checkup involving a Wii Balance board, dance moves and other distractions designed to check balance, attention span, hearing levels and even eyesight, especially people over the age of 60.

A participant checks his balance and stability on a Wii Balance Board as part of Berkley Petersen’s thesis research project at the Cavendish Mall in Côte Saint-Luc. Photo Berkeley-Petersen.

“We kind of made it a fun way to check up. How’s your balance, how’s your vision and how’s your hearing,” said Berkley Petersen, master’s student in psychology at Concordia. She collected a massive amount of data in the lab to study how factors like hearing loss might play a role in balance stability, especially in older people, for her thesis.

According to a report by Speech-Language & Audiology Canada and the Canadian Geriatrics Society, one in six Canadians has a speech, language or hearing disorder, making it the third most common chronic disability among old people. Most seniors who had their balance checked didn’t know they had a hearing problem, Petersen said.

The community-based research method adopted by the engAGE laboratory aims to bridge the gap in finding solutions to widespread problems that society has not been aware of from the beginning. Petersen and other researchers have used portable testing devices to check balance and hearing. These portable devices did the work of large, expensive harnessed lab equipment, demonstrating the functional nature of these community research labs.

“The goal of the lab is to conduct research on aging in a more realistic environment,” said Karen Li, a Petersen professor of psychology at Concordia and one of the seven founding researchers of the engAGE lab.

“The idea was, first of all, to bring the research to the community and embed ourselves in the community,” Li said. The benefit of having interactive labs in community spaces is that “participants avoid all the hassle of visiting the university campus, discovering the laboratory building, trying to find a parking space and making several trips,” she added. Li hopes the community research lab will be a better way to address salient issues in people’s daily lives.

To strengthen the bond between the community and researchers, and to increase engagement, the engAGE lab collaborated with The Art Hives Network. The network aims to establish human connections through art and artistic creation, which is considered an innate human behavior. It is this aspect that engAGE Lab has endeavored to exploit for the “community” part of its research method.

Through this collaboration, the lab offers interactive games, art activities, art therapy sessions, community building exercises and more. Their hope is to have more potential participants easily contributing to other research projects.

Lisa Potter, a tech-savvy 56-year-old art enthusiast, joined one of the free art therapy sessions offered by the lab in Quartier Cavendish Mall.

“Art therapy made my anxiety go away. Like no anxiety during COVID,” Potter said. Recognizing the disastrous effects of isolation on older adults, especially during lockdown, the lab has developed an online program called engAGE Living Lab Digital Era Response.

“Art has helped me in every way. I am no longer angry, I am very calm. It’s one of my go-to techniques,” Potter said while continuing to show off her collection of digital art she created through the online program ELLDER.

Potter is one of the seniors benefiting from the engAGE-Art Hive collaboration. Potter, through his art, expresses his set of values ​​of helping people, giving back to society, being compassionate and being supportive. Thus, she agreed to participate in extensive research projects at Concordia.

Lisa Potter shows her drawing of Willy Zoom, a mascot she designed for Concordia University. Photo Sruthi Matta.

“Instead of becoming researchers collecting information, we would be offering something in return,” said Janis Timm-Bottos, chief researcher of the engAGE lab. She is also an associate professor in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Concordia, as well as the founder of The Art Hives Network, one of the reasons for their collaboration.

Janis Timm-Bottos inspects work at the Creative engAGE Living Lab. Photo Sruthi Matta.

Community stories like Lisa Potter’s are the driving force behind engAGE Lab’s efforts to make research more accessible and accessible to the audience for whom it is intended.

“The hope is that we can start creating a social infrastructure so that people have open spaces to interact with each other and with the university,” Timm-Bottos said. She and her team are excited about a future where malls are transformed to better accommodate public initiatives and become more than just places to shop.

“And I believe we need everyone at the table,” added Timm-Bottos. “We need everyone with different life experiences, different backgrounds and unique professional lives…So that we can start solving these problems together.”

“It’s the future,” said Syeda Nayab Bukhari. She is the Director of the Telehealth Intervention Program for Isolated Elderly in the Department of Psychiatry at the Jewish General Hospital. To make research more accessible, she said the focus should be on multiple research sites and experimenting with different combinations of research methodologies.

Bukhari added that new methodologies, such as labs in malls and community spaces, have two major limitations. The first is the availability of sustainable funding. The second is to follow ethical standards and guidelines when dealing with walk-in attendees.

“We see that the engAGE living lab is a pioneer in doing this experiment…we too, as a lab, could find a way to collaborate with them,” Bukhari said. She suggests that two or three research teams get together, pooling financial and human resources to continue experimenting with research methods. That way, she thinks there would be enough room for mistakes.

“As researchers, we need to go and have these kinds of experiences where not just a segment of the community, but all segments of the community can come and see your work and be a part of it, according to their convenience and interest,” he said. she continued. .

“I don’t see them as challenges, but I see them as opportunities for labs to develop this and not let it become a challenge or a limitation,” Bukhari said, hoping these experiments will align science with the community needs.