Original Research

Art centres supporting our Elders – ‘old people, that’s where our strength comes from’ – results from a national survey of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled art centres

AUTHORS

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Paulene Mackell1
BSW, Grad Dip, PhD Candidate, Research Fellow *

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Kathryn Squires2
BA (Hons), Research Officer

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Scott Fraser3
PhD, Research Fellow

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Jessica Cecil4
PhD, Research Fellow

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Maree Meredith5
PhD, Director

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Roslyn Malay6
Cert IV in Aged Care, Researcher/Project Officer

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Melissa A Lindeman7
PhD, Associate Professor

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Chrischona Schmidt8
PhD, Manager

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Frances Batchelor9
PhD, Director of Clinical Gerontology

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Briony Dow10
PhD, Director

AFFILIATIONS

1 National Ageing Research Institute, Clinical Gerontology, Royal Melbourne Hospital, PO Box 2127, Parkville, Vic. 3052, Australia; and RMIT University, Melbourne, Vic. 3000, Australia

2, 3, 9, 10 National Ageing Research Institute, Clinical Gerontology, Royal Melbourne Hospital, PO Box 2127, Parkville, Vic. 3052, Australia

4 National Ageing Research Institute, Aged Care, Royal Melbourne Hospital, PO Box 2127, Parkville, Vic. 3052, Australia

5 Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, Flinders University, Darwin, NT 0811, Australia

6 Centre for Health and Ageing, University of Western Australia, Broome, WA 6725, Australia

7 Molly Wardaguga Research Centre, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Charles Darwin University, NT, Australia; College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders Northen Territory, Flinders University, Darwin, NT 0811, Australia

8 Ikuntji Artists, Haasts Bluff, NT 0872, Australia

ACCEPTED: 27 January 2022


early abstract:

Introduction: There are approximately 90 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled art centres located across Australia, the majority in geographically remote locations. This survey explored how these centres are supporting older people, including people living with dementia, if and how they are collaborating with aged care services and what challenges and opportunities they identify in these arrangements.
Method: An online survey was developed by a team of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers, art centre staff and art centre consultants. The survey was distributed in 2018 to art centres across Australia via their four art centre peak bodies – Desart; the Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists; the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance - Far North Queensland and Torres Strait Islands; and the Aboriginal Art Centre Hub - Western Australia. The survey was also conducted face-to-face with participants at art centre annual events; and on field trips to North Western and Central Australia, conducted as part of an overarching study.
Results: There were 53 completed responses, with the highest proportion of responses (43%) from Art Centre Managers. The survey generated 300 qualitative responses to the 13 questions that provided this option. The results showed that art centres play a wide ranging and vital role in supporting the health and wellbeing of older artists, many of whom are considered Elders within their communities, and that this reaches far beyond the production of art. The results showed that art centres are a safe place providing older people with the purpose and means to generate income, to enact governance, and to share cultural knowledge through intergenerational connection. Additionally, the results indicate that art centres provide a significant amount of direct care for older people, and that relationships are fundamental to delivering this social, emotional, spiritual and physical care.  Furthermore they showed a great deal of collaboration between art centres and aged care services, although little of this is formally documented or resourced.
Conclusions: The survey results demonstrate that art centres play a significant and previously unexplored role in supporting the wellbeing of older people and people living with dementia in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia. Respondents shared diverse examples of providing physical, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural care, assistance with navigating health and aged care systems, as well as examples of collaborations with aged care and health providers. The results demonstrate opportunities to recognise and resource this vital work. These findings are particularly important in the context of Australia’s recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety that found systemic change is urgently required. Additionally, Indigenous scholars have called for a swell of system reform to address inequities in health and aged care systems. They advocate for a fundamental shift from biomedical and siloed models of care to integrated models that centralise culture, intergenerational connection, and the cultural determinants of health. The results show that art centres could bring their expertise to this conversation.