A program run for 10 years in Western Central New South Wales, Australia, will potentially be rolled out over the entire state. Regional group Arts OutWest is an independent art development program that provides programs for youth, aging and people with disabilities in regional areas and country centres.
The aim of the program has been to use art as an integrated part of health treatment. In an interview with ABC News, the coordinator of the program Christine McMillan explained that the idea emerged from a time when the redevelopment of the Bathurst hospital in 2006 offered up a rare funding opportunity to make public artworks. They recognised that the benefits art and art making to patients, staff and the general public could be immeasurable.
“There have been some studies done to say that if a health service has an arts and health program, that they retain their staff for a lot longer”
Christine McMillan, Arts and Health Program Coordinator.
Research also suggests that making art has a very positive effect on well-being and can potentially shorten the stay of patients as they recover in a shorter amount of time, than if they weren’t engaged in a creative activity.
Since the project at Bathurst hospital almost a decade ago, Arts OutWest has grown to include programs for Indigenous, youth, aging, disability and small local communities with projects such as: a maternal health belly casting art project, regular networking events for emerging community artists, and a public outdoor performance project where stories from the community are collected and shared in a performance with a professional dance company.
These programs give a voice to the communities and allow them an opportunity to meet, share stories and keep active. The benefits of these programs are now drawing the attention of NSW Minister for Health Jillian Skinner, who has appointed a Taskforce on Health and the Arts to advise her on how to better integrate arts and health activities across the whole of NSW Health. The NSW Ministry of Health has begun workshops with four key communities across the state this month, and continuing in the next couple of months, collecting feedback from the public.