Connected Lives: Special Envoy for the Arts and Creative Australia co-host cross-portfolio event at Parliament House

Mental health and wellbeing constitute one of the greatest public policy challenges of our time. It is an issue of relevance to defence and veterans’ affairs, disaster recovery, aged care, young people, disability services, Indigenous affairs – and of course the health portfolio. 

Creative Australia, the Government’s principal arts investment and advisory body, convened a forum at Parliament House in Canberra this week, co-hosted by the Special Envoy for the Arts, Susan Templeman, MP to explore the potential for arts and creativity to contribute solutions to the mental health crisis.

Special Envoy for the Arts, Susan Templeman MP said,

“Art and creativity can significantly benefit our mental health. We know that feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression can be reduced by taking part in a creative project. Arts-based initiatives can help reduce the stigma that sadly still exists around mental health and help address the specific and diverse needs of people and communities.”

On Tuesday 14 November, Creative Australia published two important new research reports on the relationship between creativity and wellbeing. The first, Creating Wellbeing: Attitudes and engagement with arts, culture and health, shows that Australians overwhelmingly recognise the role of the arts in supporting health and wellbeing; and the second, Creative Solutions: Training and sustaining the arts for mental health workforce, explores how we can best support creative practitioners to make these vital contributions.

Chief Executive Officer of Creative Australia, Adrian Collette, AM said,

“We know from our own research that nearly half of Australians believe that creative activities and experiences helped with their mental health or wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that more Australians are attending arts and cultural events to improve their wellbeing. Our research has also shown that almost 9 in 10 Australians are open to the idea of ‘arts on prescription’, that is, to GPs prescribing arts activities as part of a health treatment plan.

“Creative Australia encourages policymakers and program designers to partner with us in looking at how we can better embed arts and creativity in government programs to support mental health and wellbeing.”

Speaking at the forum held on Thursday 16 November 2023 were experts involved in the development of Creative Australia’s Connected Lives report, published last year. This report summarises the outcomes of the Arts, Creativity and Mental Wellbeing Policy Development Program, hosted by the then Australia Council for the Arts across February to May 2022.

Professor of Mental Health at the Black Dog Institute, Katherine Boydell, said,

“Social prescribing is a legitimate tool that health practitioners can use to improve health outcomes. ‘Arts on prescription’ is one of the recommendations in the Connected Lives report. Whilst programs exist in pockets around the country, what is needed is greater coordination and upscaling – both to assist primary care workers in helping people access cultural resources, and to improve access to these resources around the country.”

First Nations cultural practitioner, nurse, midwife and Indigenous lead at The Big Anxiety, Marianne Wobcke said,

“Learning from and listening to those with lived experiences of trauma and suicidality in designing programs is essential. Developing diverse art and design collaborations can provide invaluable psychosocial support to many. For First Nations communities, connection to country is grounded in wellbeing and the practice of culture through art and creativity. Cultural healing programs need to be incorporated into our approach to mental health and wellbeing practice and policies.”

Deputy Director of Innovation and Business Development at the University of Canberra, Ian Drayton, who developed and implemented the “Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork & Skills (ARRTS) program at the University of Canberra in partnership with the Australian Defence Force, said,

“ARRTS is for Australian military personnel to apply arts therapy to address trauma. The program was conceived 10 years ago, commencing in 2014 to provide assistance through creative arts practice to Defence personnel. Despite having a profoundly positive effect it is still on the periphery in terms of treatment, but there are great opportunities for this work to be extended to others working in first response situations, including the fire, ambulance, paramedic, and police services.”

Creative Australia thanks all who participated in the forum and looks forward to the positive outcomes to follow from this important dialogue.

A copy of the report, Connected Lives: Creative solutions to the mental health crisis, can be found on our website here.

/Public Release. View in full here.