Using the power of art for health
Despite an ocean separating the two countries, Canadians and Australians have more in common than we think, said Adriane Boag, learning and access co-ordinator with the National Gallery of Australia.
“A group of people who are on a mental health recovery journey in Canberra are not dissimilar in the things they care about or challenges they faced [compared] to a group of people in Haliburton. So that’s a really lovely thing,” she said on Thursday, Oct. 17, referring to the group of people she works with in Australia.
Boag has spoken around the world about how people can benefit from visits to art galleries, as an approach for non-pharmaceutical treatment. The co-ordinator has also been featured on the expert speaker series TED Talks in 2016.
She visited Haliburton County from Canberra, Australia and spent several days making presentations about the popular Australian practice, and worked with participants to put what she does in her home country into practice locally.
Boag was in the Highlands from Oct. 15 to 18, invited by Fay Wilkinson, an Eagle Lake-based expressive arts practitioner. The two met last year in Australia when they were speakers at the International Conference on Arts and Health.
Started in 2007 as the Art and Alzheimer’s program conducted at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra Art, the program was renamed the Art Dementia Program to better reflect different kinds of dementia.
Wilkinson said although this practice was initially used for those with dementia, it can serve as a framework for people with other challenges, including mental health, and can be adapted to fit the needs of a community.
This approach offers intellectual stimulation and an opportunity for social engagement. Everyone in the group is encouraged to discuss, engage in interpretation, express emotions and possibly trigger memories for exploration, which can lead to greater well-being and quality of life.
Boag led talks and workshops in Haliburton, Minden and West Guilford.
One of the workshops included nearly a dozen participants at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery on Oct. 17 in Minden. The participants, who have worked with Wilkinson for the past few years, were part of the Hopes, Fears and Dreams initiative, which is a project of Art-Making For the Health Of It! and is a part of the programming offered through the Haliburton Highlands Health Services and Haliburton Highlands Mental Health Services.
The group examined several pieces in the gallery’s exhibition called Nature FIXED by artist Jocelyn Purdie, then discussed the details of the photos and sculptures, sharing ideas and thoughts; answered five provoking questions, creating poems with their answers; created miniature scenes with organic material and toy figurines, photographed them and printed the images and then transferred the scene, adding paint to paper.
Boag said when it comes to art therapy, the main difference between Australia and Canada is the execution.
“We do have expressive arts practitioners in Australia, but it’s ... a different kind of process,” she said. “I’m based in a gallery. I’m employed by a gallery so all the work I do happens in that environment so this is a different kind of model. This is more community based. So that’s interesting to have that exchange as well.”
Boag said she and Wilkinson were keen to work together so they could see what similarities existed between their programs and what ideas could be exchanged to enrich their own practices.
Boag was open to a continued correspondence between her group and Wilkinson’s.
“I would definitely be talking to my group of people about what we did here and there is a potential that we might actually send something to Haliburton to this group. And they might send something to us. We might start an exchange where there is a feeling that people are not alone. They’re more connected. I think my group would find that really exhilarating,” she said.
Besides the fact finding effort, she appreciated getting to know the people through interactive opportunities instead of only leading talks in her first visit to Canada. This engagement opportunity raised a question for her.
“What would be useful for you in Haliburton?” she said. “That’s what I’m interested in.”
With files from Jim Poling Sr.