World’s best address mental health and resilience through the arts

More than 80 presenters from around Australia and the world will share their expertise at The Art of Good Health and Wellbeing: 9th Annual International Arts and Health Conference, at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney from 30 October – 1 November.

Some have decades of dedication to the Arts and Health. Others, equally passionate, are just beginning their journey, with fresh approaches to the powerful impact the arts can have on mental and physical health of people of all ages, with a special focus on ageing.

Convenor Margret Meagher said the wide range of arts and health topics encompassed art, poetry, music and song, dance, theatre, film, craft and cuisine and dealt with aged care, dementia, veterans, prisoners, child and youth mental health and women’s health.

The need for interconnection between generations and knowledge transfer is also addressed, along with how to design and deliver meaningful programs, how to measure success and provide new insights and education for staff and carers and to share government and non-government knowledge and resources.

The overarching theme of the conference is Mental Health and Resilience through the Arts, with three key areas explored being Mental Health and Resilience, Creative Ageing, and Arts and Health in Hospitals, Healthcare Services and Health Promotion.

With the world’s older population increasing exponentially, and no known cure for dementia, which affects one in 10 people over the age of 65, the evidence that engagement in creative activities can have a major impact on older people’s quality of life is the focus of a number of presentations.

Plenary speaker, Francois Matarasso, who has worked in community arts in over 35 countries since 1981 as an artist, producer and researcher and has published influential works on the social outcomes of participation in the arts, will explore how artistic practice can change people’s experience of old age. Francois says his work is based on ‘the belief that everyone has the right to create art and to share the result, as well as to enjoy and participate in the creations of others’.

Fellow plenary speaker, Brisbane’s Michael Balfour will address the arts and ageing through applied theatre, with ‘play’ used to re-empower dementia patients and positively change their relationships, while Norway’s Audun Myskja and England’s David Savill discuss the power of music, and reminiscence theatre respectively.

Katrina Rank, Ausdance Victoria’s director of Education, Training and Lifelong Learning, will examine whether Australia is ready for the senior demand for dance classes, Liz Avern-Briers looks at revaluing Hong Kong’s elderly and Danielle Barry uses music and museum experiences to engage people with early-stage dementia and their carers.

Michelle Weiner will also walk us through England’s first purpose-built art gallery, Dulwich Picture Gallery, and its cutting-edge ‘Good Times’ program for older people.

Canada’s George Belliveau, also a plenary speaker, shares a remarkable story of healing in which veterans who served in Afghanistan collaborated with health and theatre researchers to produce and act in a play Contact!Unload, which has been performed for soldiers, veterans and civilians, including Canadian Parliament and England’s Prince Harry and was presented at the Invictus Games. A one-act version of the play, tracing the men’s inner struggles, survivor’s guilt and camaraderie, and their pathway towards healing, will be presented at the conference.

‘These veterans have journeyed from the battlefield to the counselling room to the theatre, where they perform their lived experiences’, George said.

Vegar Rangul, from Norway, examines an integrated program of music, song and movement for employees in health care, and Michael Camit and Kevin Bathman discuss the Pink Sari Melodies Song-writing Competiton, which increased NSW breast screening in women from India and Sri Lanka by 17%.

Mixing music and intergenerational collaboration, plenary speaker Andrea Creech discusses musical pathways as a source of life strengths that nurture resilient and creative later life, and explores how creative musical social networks support feelings of belonging and worth.

Creative writing can also impact well-being. Nicki Cassimatis shares how poetry helped her express and contain intense emotions, problem-solve and heal following a mid-life battle with depression and anxiety in Words to Raise Me Up, while Roslyn and Chris Poulos champion the concept of Arts on Prescription in Australia and discuss their program of participatory arts for people over 65 experiencing a range of health and wellbeing challenges including frailty, declining physical function, anxiety, depression, mild cognitive impairment, bereavement, social isolation and/or carer burden.

To find out more, go to the Australian Centre for Arts and Health website. #artshealth17

The Art of Good Health and Wellbeing Conference