The story continues…

After a lost weekend of local tourism and farewells to our conference chums, we headed south to Tasmania on Monday November 22nd. We arrived in Hobart accompanied by the strange sounds of unidentifiable birds. Our host, Jacquie Maginnis, of the charmingly named Department of Health and Human Services, took us to the venue for the workshop we were to run in the afternoon.

Moorilla – a new building set in a vineyard, it afforded floor to ceiling views. Not one screen but two for our presentation – sensurround! Outside the temperature was as much of a surprise to the locals as to us – 30 degrees and rising.

Participants came from the arts, health, local government and voluntary sector. We were asked to give a presentation and so we introduced the workshop with an outline of Common Knowledge methods, including a practical reflective practice exercise.

Then, together, they tackled the question of how best to build strong arts and health networks that will help support healthy, sustainable communities. They were committed to the task and entered in to some strong debate about language and methods. We resolved the concensus with moments to spare…

Subsequent feedback has been very positive and we are forwarding to Jacquie the summary table with further reflections and recommendations.

Tuesday and our diaries were full of on-the-spot consultations. Not your average appointments:

We began the day with the Gambling Addiction Support Service, asking our advice re imaginative interventions. It was most useful to reflect on the NEF statistics re: happiness. This is how some people fill their 40 per cent of activity time. There are only half a million people here, living what some would consider a perfect lifestyle, and yet gambling losses account for astonishing sums of money. Ten per cent of the state budget is derived from gambling  and so any projects that deal with its negative consequences need to tread very carefully.

Every one is Australia was given $800 to stimulate the economy. Certainly in Tasmania and no doubt elsewhere, a huge proportion of that money was fed in to slot machines and wagered away. At a casino in Sydney, staff no longer encourage patrons to take breaks from the slot machines or ‘pokies’ as they are called here, and so there are reported incidents of people losing bladder control as they continue to play. Another horrendous tale was of a patron who suffered a heart attack whilst playing a pokie. The paramedics couldn’t persuade those playing at adjacent machines to move so they could best attend to the stricken…

We discussed several ways of modelling healthy social living that would build social cohesion and distract from the hideous persuasion of gambling and its dealers. There is a great potential to create work that is indeed radical and of necessity under the radar of the vigilant treasury.

It was a great conversation. We all walked away the richer.

Then, we visited the Choir of High Hopes, which had gathered in an extraordinary assortment of marginalised people. Currently in rehearsal for festive jingles for the local community TV channel, we happily joined in with the Twelve Days of Christmas.

GASP!

GASP!

Off we went to meet with Pippa, the public art manager for GASP!, a new waterside sculpture trail adjoining the venue where we held the workshop. Our advice was sought re how to best involve community health issues in the project without losing the quality in challenging commissioned works. Mike’s experience at Gateshead, commissioning Gormley’s Angel, and Mary’s from working at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park set some parameters for the conversation.

We left Pippa and walked over to city hall to meet with officers from Social Inclusion and Cultural Development departments. Here was an oppressively civic atmosphere – panelled walls, plush patterned red carpet and thick mustard velour curtains closed to keep out the heat.

We were welcomed and asked to talk of long-term community engagement and arts for social change. They were aware of Gateshead and spoke highly of the recent Melbourne conference as one of their number had attended and brought the learning south.

We weren’t done yet… Back at our hotel, we said goodbye to Jacquie and met ceramic artist Sara Wright. She told the tale of her recent history and how her brother died of testicular cancer at 23. She spent a year making exquisite work in his memory. We talked of how arts, health and flourishing could be focussed in palliative care.

Sara took us for fish and chips on the beach. Just like home, but not. Here, an impressive array of freshly cooked alternatives. With salad! Afterwards, we drove to the top of Mount Wellington, almost 1300 feet above Hobart. We gazed down at the island, blurred by distant rain, the air full of the smell of pine and eucalyptus. Or as Mike so fetchingly described it,

“Smells like toilet cleaner up here”.

The next morning, we bade sweet farewell to Tasmania and returned to a humid Melbourne. We met with Rosalie Hastwell of the Festival of Healthy Living It isn’t a festival, but a mental health promotion strategy, auspiced by The Royal Children’s Hospital Mental Health Service, which links communities, mental health promotion and the arts. We talked of artists’ training, reflective practice and interdisciplinary work.


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