Arts OutWest’s Aboriginal arts and health project ‘Spread the Word’ is getting international attention, with an invitation to present at the Culture, Health and Wellbeing International conference in Bristol, UK, last week.
The Spread the Word project brought together local artists, health professionals and communities to deliver workshops using creative skills and health information to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent chronic disease.
In partnership with Aboriginal health units and the Aboriginal Maternal Infant Health Strategy, workshops were held across 10 locations in NSW and taught skills in graphic design, film-making and hip hop. The works produced were displayed in three separate exhibitions, allowing the community to share their work and the health messages.
For Arts OutWest executive officer Tracey Callinan, the most important part of the project was being able to talk about health while engaging workshop attendees in art. “We were able to build relationships and bring people together through art, but also promote health messages and deliver information. Our Aboriginal Health Workers were saying that it is sometimes difficult to get access to people, and we were able to bring people together through art,” she says. “We always had a conversation happening about health throughout all the workshops.”
One of the workshops was designed to reach pregnant women, and, in some cases, this was the first time there had been contact with health workers. “The women would come along to the workshop where we did belly-casting [pregnancy belly casts], and we would talk about nutrition and healthy pregnancies. We worked with the Aboriginal Maternal Infant Health Strategy for this workshop,” she says.
“In other workshops we had film-making sessions, and also Desert Pea Media making hip-hop rap clips with young people. We conducted graphic design workshops and linked those workshops to business and economic opportunities for participants, and we also ran ‘boot camp’ fitness sessions. “The whole point of the workshops was to engage the hardest to reach in the communities.”
The Spread the Word project was funded under the Australian Government’s Healthy Communities Program, and was designed from the ground up in partnership with Aboriginal health management teams. “We used art to set up a really positive environment where people enjoyed coming, and it was easier then to get the health messages across.” Arts OutWest is currently building an exchange program with the UK, and Aboriginal artists will visit Derbyshire County Council later this year to conduct workshops and exhibit works. “We’ll also be trialling our belly-casting workshop with young people in the UK, and looking at ways to share the knowledge that exists in the Aboriginal community here through the exchange program.”