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Travelling tree seeds enhanced elder support on the Sunshine Coast

A research project exploring the vitality of senior life on the Sunshine Coast is using three-dimensional art to root meaningful conversations. 
Rolf Reynolds designed and built the Listening Tree, which anchors the Who Cares? engagement sessions organized by Deer Crossing the Art Farm.

A research project exploring the vitality of senior life on the Sunshine Coast is using three-dimensional art to root meaningful conversations. 

On April 4, a dozen senior citizens gathered at the Pender Harbour Community Hall in Madeira Park for discussion facilitated by members of Deer Crossing the Art Farm, a Gibsons arts organization. At the centre of the hall stood the Sharing Tree, a broad-limbed sculpture fashioned from wood by artist Rolf Reynolds. 

Around its knot-spotted trunk an encircling bench invites easy conversation. As workshop participants suggest issues and priorities, their words are inscribed on multi-coloured cards affixed to the tree-like florid foliage. 

“The idea is that if you come into a project with an end goal, it changes how you come to that, and it changes the things that you think about as the brainstorming happens,” explained Shannon Rody, the community liaison for the Who Cares? project. Deer Crossing the Art Farm is leading front-line engagement for research partners at Douglas College, the Health Design Lab at Emily Carr University, and the Sunshine Coast Seniors Planning Table. 

“But if you come and allow the process to be emergent, then you can be flexible enough to move with whatever the needs are,” added Rody, “and you find creativity in that. That’s the real bedrock of our process.” 

The outreach initiative follows an earlier collaboration between the Art Farm, Douglas College and the Christenson Village assisted living facility. Raising the Curtain explored the lived experience of dementia through ideas, creativity and visions of people who live with the condition. As a result, representatives from the Art Farm were invited by Emily Carr University’s Health Design Lab to present at a dementia-themed conference, which blossomed into further collaboration. 

“We got to know the people there,” said Chad Hershler, artistic director of the Art Farm. “All of us are working in fields where we’re engaging with people, and it felt like there were things we could try to explore in the wider community. Because in some ways the people who live with the experience of dementia are emblematic of the need for care as we grow old.” 

Hershler and his team have enumerated familiar challenges within the B.C. health care system, like staffing shortages and resource constraints. Instead of demanding solutions from funders, he says the Who Cares? exercise helps identify potential for the enhancement of grassroots support networks.  

“We don’t want to come in and tell the health care system ‘Here’s another thing you’ve got to do,’” he said. “We’re asking what we can bring and how we can play a role to cultivate a community of care.” 

Valerie Clibbett-Moore, one of the participants on April 4, said that the session’s hands-on qualities made it easy to share her experiences and recommendations about senior life in Pender Harbour (enhanced public transit access was highlighted as a key need). “They were wonderful people providing important information,” Clibbett-Moore said, “and I loved the tree.” 

Findings from the April 4 session and upcoming engagement will be used to form recommendations for enhanced elder care and support on the Sunshine Coast. 

The Listening Tree — centrepiece of the Who Cares? project — will be installed next at Silverstone Care Centre in Sechelt on April 25. It is also scheduled to make an appearance later this month at Sunnycrest Mall in Gibsons; its full itinerary (and project details) are available online at