The Art of Good Health and Wellbeing, Melbourne 2010 2nd Annual International Arts and Health Conference 16 – 19 November 2010
Sidney Myer Asia Centre, University of Melbourne, Victoria

The Art of Good Health and Wellbeing, presented best practice and innovative arts and health practice and programs, examples of effective healthcare promotion, methods of project evaluation and data from scientific research. This year’s Conference had a special focus on arts and health strategies for children and youth; the built environment, design and health; mental health and creative ageing.

Phew! What a time we have had…

This was a big conference, with 300 delegates from all over Australia, plus the USA, Europe and the Far East. The programme was very busy, starting at 8.45 in the morning and often finishing on or around 7.00 in the evening. There were 24 breakout sessions per day, each consisting of 2-4 presentations, in addition to keynote presentations, conversations and plenaries.

Before the conference began, the presenters were invited to a private view of Lyon Housemuseum In 2000, Corbett Lyon and Yueji Lyon built on their interests in contemporary art and architecture and developed the concept of a ‘housemuseum’ to accommodate their family and the Lyon Collection.  Our visit to the finished project prompted musings about the nature of public and private. For example, there were no tags on the artworks; a conversation was necessary in order to find out more. Corbett has played the pipe organ since childhood and has commissioned a contemporary full sized organ. It is sleek, all pale wood and gleaming metal and he played it for us. Bach filled this most modern space.

Our week started by taking part in the pre-conference workshop: Toolkit: Arts in Healthcare Program Essentials, Building and Sustaining Arts in Healthcare Programmes. Our contribution was a presentation about Common Knowledge past and present, stressing the value of interdisciplinary relationships.

Other presenters included Dr Gary Christenson, Director, Boynton Mental Health Clinic and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, USA. Amongst examples of art at the clinic, he told the tale of renting an Art-o-mat. Art-o-mats are retired cigarette vending machines that have been converted to vend art and well worth a look.

There were lanterns dotted around the conference centre, from various community events. Three-dimensional stars hung outside the theatre and a tableau of Chinese birdcage house lanterns was nestled in a corner. We felt right at home as a result.

The official opening of the conference included a conversation between the aforementioned Gary Christiansen and Australian of the year Professor Patrick McGorry AO, facilitated by Dr Jill Gordon. It was a pleasure to reconnect with Jill after an unbelievable two years. It seems like only yesterday she was with the Centre in Durham…

Wednesday 17th was our big day – we presented a keynote session in the afternoon. Around and about that, we helped the organisers by chairing breakout sessions. Being asked to chair sessions solved the problem of deciding which ones to attend.

I started the day with The Lost Generation Project. This project seeks to find the life stories of people with learning difficulties. Simone Flavelle, the co-presenter, from DADAA, used the phrase ‘People are people because of people’ which is essentially the African concept of Ubuntu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described Ubuntu in 2008:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

There is a distinct link here with our notions of what makes for collective flourishing as opposed to individual well-being.

We began our presentation where Mike left off last year, on resilience and emotional learning. We carried on to describe what we and CMH have been up to in the last year, leading to the challenges of social injustice, health inequalities as outlined in the Marmot review and the health service restructure in a time of austerity.

We paused for collective thought and invited our audience to discuss these issues in the light of their own experience, before concluding with upbeat narratives on Wrekenton, Chickenley and Tilery. We finished by looking at how ‘Five Ways to Well-being could provide an evuative framework and we highlighted often overlooked factors of resonance, aesthetic agency, and communal will in the modelling of healthy social living.

We invited folk to write a placard – what did they want to say to policy makers? We received about forty, which we typed up and exhibited in the conference foyer. Here are a couple of them:



A major contributor to the conference was Bruce Esplin, Victoria’s Emergency Services Commissioner. He spoke eloquently of the value of the arts as part of recovery – not just of the individual, but of the community. After ‘Black Saturday’, the culmination of terrible bush fires in February 2009, Bruce helped support Regional Arts Victoria to include the arts as part of the response. He is actively encouraging that the arts be part of the state’s protocols re: disaster response. For some of the projects, see Illuminated by Fire

On Thursday, MMU’s Clive Parkinson gave a provocative paper on the medicalisation of unhappiness. It was an abbreviated version of a longer paper that we invie him to come and give in Durham.

One session covered three aspects of living with advanced cancer. Carolyn Rickett, along with Jill Gordon gave a workshop entitled “Singing Bodies into Shapes of a Different Kind – metaphor and transformation in cancer patients”, telling of the particular power of a poetry writing module that gave patients the skills to articulate benign metaphors of their condition none of which were to do with waging war!

Mike chaired a session on evaluation with quantitative researchers from Curtin University in WA including a paper from the University of Melbourne problematising arts in health methodologies, and an interesting account from Christine Putland of Flinders University on evaluation as a planning/development tool for a new arts precinct adjoining Adelaide’s main mental health hospital.

Quotes of the day from David Ames:

Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease

from his witty presentation that also included this memorable lyric about ageing and time from Der Rosenkavelier:

I hear it flowing unrelenting.
Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night and stop all the clocks, all of them.

Mike’s book signing sold out all 25 available copies and in the evening he met with an interdisciplinary group of researchers from La Trobe University who would be keen to collaborate with CMH and offered to help road test evaluation instruments in Victoria communities.

We met with our Aussie chums to discuss preparations for our Critical Mass gathering in Durham next June. We also invited the aforementioned Gary Christiansen to join the merry throng.

The finale of the conference was excerpts from Florence! The Musical! Songs about the trials and tribulations of being a nurse, honestly referring to the grotty aspects of care giving.

We ran an evaluation workshop with over thirty delegates on Friday afternoon. It was a challenge to reach concensus not least because of the festive, post-conference mood of some of the participants, but we got there! The organisers now aim to act on the table summary of the workshop as they plan next year’s conference.

1 Comment

Mike · January 30, 2011 at 10:49 am

I just want to add that the Melbourne conference was organised by the wonderful Margret Meagher of Arts and Health Australia. She’s a consummate networker and a generous hostess, and her commitment and tenacity in getting on this excellent international conference for the second consecutive year is amazing. She is already planning the next one for November 2011, in Melbourne or possibly Canberra. Details from

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