Arts In Health

Maree Meredith with her Malpa for the project, Jospehine Mick
Maree Meredith with her Malpa for the project, Jospehine Mick

Project partners

Flinders University

Ananguku Arts and Culture
Aboriginal Corporation

Centre for Remote Health

Poche Foundation

Palya Fund

About Maree Meredith

Maree’s interest in health came about as a cadet with the Northern Territory Health Department working in women’s health policy.

Maree was also an intern with Danila Dilba Health Services in Darwin and completed her Honours degree at the Charles Darwin University in Anthropology. She went on to train with the AusAID graduate program and worked on the Australian Non-Government Cooperation Program, Papua New Guinea Health and HIV/AIDS desks.

After this training in Canberra Maree worked with the Central Land Council (CLC) in a number of positions over a period of 5 years. She was able to work with Anangu on a number of projects mainly in the field of tourism development.

In 2010 Maree headed back to Canberra to study. She graduated with a Masters in Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development from the ANU in 2010.

Arts In Health

A three-year study being carried out in Aboriginal communities on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands will shed light on why art centres are considered ‘essential’ for community health and cohesion. With around 3,000 people living on the APY Lands, approximately 15% (or 460 people) are engaged in art activities through community owned art centres.

For many years there has been an abundance of anecdotal evidence that suggests art centres make a significant contribution towards community health and wellbeing but there has been no empirical proof of the link until now. The study initiated by Ananguku Arts in 2008 with Flinders University has been funded by the Australian Research Council and will for the first time provide reliable evidence that art centres improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people in remote communities.

Back in the early 1990’s people remember a huge drop in visits to the clinic at Balgo following the establishment of a community owned art centre there. When Papunya Tjupi opened 5 years ago the same was said to have happened there. But until the evidence is collated and published no solid case can be made for the health benefits of art activities.

The amount of funding allocated to the arts is always proportionally less than in other sectors like health and education, but it is obvious to any observer that Art Centres are not only centres of fine art but have a whole range of impacts in the communities. Increasingly, they play a key role in the intergenerational transfer of knowledge. As it becomes more difficult to take families back to traditional country the art and the production of art becomes more important as a way of teaching Tjukurpa. As Murray George said at a recent meeting in Adelaide, “Art is part of us!”

Art Centres also contribute to community wellbeing by supporting Indigenous governance. These Aboriginal organisations are key areas where Anangu have control over their lives, which, on the social determinants of health model, is a critical step in improving wellbeing.

The researcher conducting the study is Maree Meredith, a PhD candidate with Flinders University. Maree is an Aboriginal woman from Brisbane who has been working in the field of international and Indigenous development for the past decade in the Northern Territory.  She worked in women’s health policy for the NT Department of Health and completed an honours degree in anthropology at Charles Darwin University before gaining a Masters in Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development at ANU.

One of the ground-breaking aspects of this research is Maree’s methodology. One of the guiding principals for the project from Ananguku Arts is that research is not done in Aboriginal communities without giving something back, especially when the research is going on, while also identifying the long term benefits to the community. Currently the project is concerned with developing an Anangu conceptual framework for ‘mapping’ the research process which includes identifying key emerging themes, translating the research process into language and developing a governance model of decision making for the research.

The project will include an overview of all art centres with two detailed case studies involving intensive observation in two art centres over the next four months. The third stage of the project will involve the design and implementation of the survey. Maree says this will be a highlight of the project. “For this stage I will train 14 Anangu art workers in the development and design of a survey to be delivered by them to  Anangu artists and their families across the APY Lands,” she said. “The survey design and training program will assist in ensuring that method, approach, analysis and interpretation 'fit' with Anangu worldview and provide some return to the community through education,” she said.

Ananguku Arts Chair David Miller from Kanpi was impressed with the research strategy of Professor David Throsby who said at a recent Australia Council Partner Organisations meeting in Sydney “Research is a weapon for advocacy.” Mr Miller said the Arts In Health project “will be a tool for art centres on the APY Lands to influence Government policy.”




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