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Indigenous scholar shows art centres support health and wellbeing


A Bidjara woman has completed her PhD studies on how Aboriginal art centres can improve health and wellbeing in remote communities.

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Maree Meredith, the first PhD graduate of the Flinders Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Well-Being, has studied the health promotion benefits of art centres in South Australia’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands.

Meredith, 42, said her research shows that art centres provide positive health benefits and social networking for elderly people in remote indigenous communities.

“Australia’s art centre model has evolved from being craft and hobby drop-in centres for women to become much more, including a culturally safe place to promote healthier lifestyles and social and economic growth,” said Meredith.

“They’re not just about producing art but are an enabling space for people to come together and meet each other, discuss community affairs and seek health advice.”

More than 100 art centres currently exist in remote communities around Australia. Over the four-year study, Meredith worked with senior women and artists from seven centres in South Australia’s remote APY lands.

PhD co-supervisor Associate Professor Eileen Willis said this research is one of the first providing empirical evidence that art centres support health and wellbeing.

“The thesis provides new approaches to health promotion in the indigenous context,” said Associate Professor Willis.

“It reveals the way in which Anangu view artwork as both a 9-to-5 job, as well as an exercise in recreating country.”

The Adelaide Poche Centre was established in 2011 to address the complex health problems faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Art centres have not previously been recognised for this role they have in health,” said Meredith.

“My research shows how art centres promote holistic health, such as connection to country and spiritual health. They help to overcome this idea of deficit, so people can not just participate in art, but also engage in social, emotional, spiritual and also medical health interventions.”

Funded by the Australian Research Council with the Anangu Arts and the Palya Foundation, Meredith worked collaboratively with Anangu to develop and deliver her research within the community.

Although not a replacement for traditional health services, Meredith said the art centres work in a supporting role to influence better health outcomes in indigenous communities.

“I’m now working on another project at how aged care services can partner with art centres to support the elderly and vulnerable members of remote communities, “ said Meredith.

“This research is a blueprint for other art centres across Australia, I’ve been working in the Northern territory and Western Australia and this research provides a social health model that can translate into other indigenous areas.”

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