Not So Cut Off; Arts Council Northern Ireland Arts & Older People Programme

In 2015 the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) commissioned a pioneering report to complement the evaluation of their Arts and Older People Programme (AOPP). The AOPP was an innovative 3 year programme launched in 2009 with the aim of promoting social inclusion for older people. The aim of the report was to illustrate the impact of AOPP in alleviating social isolation and loneliness by inviting a public health researcher to co author the report with an artist of their choice. Una Lynch (Sonrisa public health specialist) invited Joan Alexander to tender for the commission on the basis of her work with Shadows, time and ageing. Lynch and Alexander successfully proposed to use Shadow casting and Shadow tracing images throughout the report to complement the written text and illuminate key findings and learning. The report, “Not So Cut Off” was published and launched in April 2016, the full the full version  is here and the summary here.

Omnipresent, but not always visible, shadows are a useful metaphor in representing the different thoughts, feelings and experiences associated with loneliness and isolation. In Shadow Studies Alexander uses the shadow as a tool to create images through a process of delicate tracing and casting. These creative processes become integral and visible in the final images.While the shadow is often seen as a foreboding sign of danger, of the unknown, a dark or sinister image, in Alexander’s work, the shadow is considered as a magical presence, a silent loyal twin, only appearing with the light. In contrast to the loneliness and isolation that may surround us as we age, the shadow is a constant attachment (in isolation) and witness (to the lonely).

Shadow Maps are evidence that time is passing as we see the lines of shadows shift towards the edge of the page while the sun moves across the sky. In this way they are testament to the fact that while we move through time and changes they do not define us and we remain closely connected to the constant, core elements of ourselves.The shadow maps serve as an allegory or symbol for the impact of the Arts on alleviating social isolation and loneliness for older people. The passage of time, normally invisible, is made tangible by the shadow lines. When viewed in conjunction with evidence of how participation in the Arts by older people has enhanced their sense of belonging, health and wellbeing the shadow maps provide a compelling reminder of the inter-connectedness between Art and public health.

Shadow Castings

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Shadow castings were used throughout the report to illustrate individual stories and the transformative impact of the Arts in the lives of older people. Depicting a story through cut out shapes that become shadow puppets – shadow casting is an effective vehicle for communicating complex messages to a wide variety of audiences. Alexander created her shadow cast images by cutting out shadow puppets and installing them into mini shadow stage sets. The shadow images were then photographed, using lights and filters and produced as still images to create beautiful but simple illustrations. This creative process is also a testament to both pre camera photography and the ancient art of visual story telling.

Below is a video about the Arts & Older People Programme from participants , artists and researchers.


Broadcaster, author and journalist, Mary Kenny said of the project; “The Arts Council in the North is a pioneer of creative projects for older people”. Mary, a guest speaker at the launch of Not So Cut Off and the carer of her late husband has personal experience of the impact of isolation and loneliness surrounding ageing. She published a full review of Not so Cut Off in the Irish Independent which can be read here.