Bathurst arts and health retrospective

Filed : ARTS & HEALTH, In Hospitals .

The art to a healthy hospital: a retrospective on seven years at Bathurst Health Service

When the hospital in Bathurst was rebuilt seven years ago it was more than new rooms and equipment that went into the planning. An innovative arts and health program was a part of the mix from day one.

Now seven years on, the team behind the project looks back at their proudest moments of the internationally award winning Bathurst Arts and Health Project.


The Arts OutWest managed program was designed to improve health outcomes through the arts. There was extensive initial consultation with health staff and the community as well as advice from arts and health experts.


Whilst the trigger for the arts and health program was the hospital re-development, the focus, said Dr Peter Wilson, has been very much on community participation: “The art on the hospital walls is part of the bigger context of the whole arts and health program. Its great value is in giving people a positive experience of the health service and the space… it’s participatory,” he said. Dr Wilson represents Charles Sturt University on the Bathurst arts and health steering committee, is senior lecturer in Creative Arts and an internationally recognised ceramic artist.


The program has reached beyond the hospital walls with activities in schools, nursing homes, in the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery and in community centres.

As an educator, Dr Wilson says the involvement with schools has been, for him, a real highlight, noting the early work done with primary school students to make bright artworks for the hospital that they then got to see framed and hung: “That was a great thing. It also gave teachers an opportunity to get professional development and go back and work their students. As a result of that we got an exhibition, a series of exhibitions together, that were professionally presented and framed. That was great for the schools and their families,” he said.


That schools exhibition was the first of many: Work was shown by people with a disability (2010, 2011), by young people (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011), Central West Acquired Brain Injury Action Group (2009), CSU students (2008), professional artists (2011), by multi-cultural groups (2009), local Aboriginal artists and a health researcher (2012). The hospital also purchased a permanent collection of artworks by prominent local artists.

“Over seven years… so many different activities, exhibitions. There’s the Out of the Ordinary art exhibition where we had people with disabilities’ work on the walls, which were for sale, which was really successful,” community representative Jenni Brackenreg recalls.

“I think it made a wonderful connection, a link, between the hospital and the community,” Jenni Brackenreg said. “I think that’s what our program is about. That’s the key. We’re not just an insular hospital, with a program with pictures on walls. We are actually reaching out to the community in a health promotion type context.”


“You know it’s working when you see kids come in with their parents to show them their work on the walls or people with a disability feeling more comfortable about the hospital space when they see their own work on display,” Arts OutWest executive officer Tracey Callinan said.

“It brought people in to the hospital who would have never been in here,” Dr Wilson added.

But, it’s more than just art on the walls. The music performances have been popular with health staff. Whether it’s meeting a clown on your way to pathology or being entertained by young acrobats during lunch, these events have lived long in the memories of health staff. “Beautiful music in the foyer, wafting down,” Jenni Brackenreg said.


“Staff and visitors now ask ‘When is the next performance?’ and recall that people were dancing in the corridors,” arts and health coordinator Christine McMillan said. “People smiled for weeks later when recalling the performances”.

The participation of health staff has been key in the program. There has been training for both artists and health workers and staff have designed many of the arts programs as responses to needs in the health service.


The deeply moving ‘Waving Not Drowning’ (2008-2009) project included art making and blog writing for people in palliative care, carers and volunteers. In Bathurst’s acute mental health unit, the Panorama Clinic, art and storytelling workshops (2008) helped staff connect with the health consumers with the bonus of art being created for the otherwise sterile space. There have been rap songs about the importance of hand washing and staff choirs at Christmas.


Following the successful Aboriginal Maternal and Infant Health Bellycasting program (2009-10), arts-based training for delivering the program has been given to staff right across the Western NSW Local Health District. Regionally, more than a hundred young Aboriginal mothers-to-be and their families have made and decorated plaster casts of their bellies whilst casually talking about child health issues with health staff. Arts OutWest has since found funding to run bellycasting as a regional activity through the Aboriginal arts and health project ‘Spread the Word’. In 2013 Chrisine McMillan took the bellycasting project to the UK where she worked with Derbyshire health workers and artists to train a team to deliver belly casting as a part of an arts and health project in Chesterfield, England.

“I really like the way that the health workers now see an opportunity for art to be integrated into their programs, as a way of communicating a message. And they come to me and ask for help to do that,” arts and health coordinator Christine McMillan said.


The Bathurst Regional Art Gallery and Arts OutWest’s ‘Look Art Talk’ pilot art and Alzheimer’s project – working with local nursing homes and the gallery’s art collection – won both the Arts and Health Australia International Award (2012) and a Museum and Galleries NSW IMAGiNE Award (2013) and has been presented at a number of international conferences. Arts OutWest also won the Arts and Health Australia International Award (2011) for the Bathurst arts and health program.

Whilst the program currently receives no specific funding, Arts OutWest still employs Christine McMillan two-days a week to run the Central West wide arts and health program, and Western NSW Local Health District continues to support the program in the hospital. Christine McMillan is now advising on the redevelopment of Forbes and Parkes hospital to integrate arts there. She is working with the University of Western Sydney’s rural medical school to develop arts engagement programs for trainee doctors in Bathurst to build communication skills especially with people with Alzheimers and their connections with the local community.

In May to August ‘Bathurst Health Service Shines’ will showcase the visual art and performance of members of staff, their families, friends, volunteers and people who have been clients of the Bathurst Health Service. There will be evening performances in the foyer and specially designed individual or small group performances on the wards, as well as an exhibition of visual work.

“From a personal perspective, I’m really proud to be a part of the steering committee for this program. To be able to encourage the participation , in all parts of the community. It’s been really great to see the art program go on,” said Vicki Fallon from the Bathurst Health Council, “and the link between health and art is really important,” Vicki Fallon said.

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