Art for wellbeing program painting positive picture for students

Published on 12 September 2023


A pioneering art program helping put Lake Mac high school students in the right headspace could be rolled out across NSW if early signs of success continue.

Lake Macquarie City Council, the University of Newcastle and headspace Newcastle – the local branch of Australia’s national youth mental health foundation – have partnered for the pilot HEAD2ART program at the Museum of Art and Culture, yapang.

Council’s Visual Art and Public Programs Leader Joanna Davies said that with R U OK Day just around the corner on 14 September, it was the perfect time to trial the initiative.

“We’re trying to demonstrate how art museums can support mental health, and the honest feedback and art-making responses from these students in the pilot program will help us do that,” she said.

“Public galleries and museums are calm, controlled environments, and offer space to reflect and respond. Importantly, they belong to the people, and everyone can feel welcome.”

Students from Years 10-12 rotate through various art activities one day a week over three weeks to help them channel thoughts and feelings into a creative outlet, with UoN researchers observing participants’ behaviour and surveying their wellbeing at the start and the end of the program.

UoN Creative Industries researcher Dr Helena Bezzina, who has worked in art galleries for two decades, said “something magical” happened when people of all ages walked through a gallery’s doors.

“I think it’s because they are safe spaces,” she said.

“When you’re talking about art and looking at art in public spaces, people start talking about themselves, and that connection between the art, each other and what they are feeling generates a sense of wellbeing.”

Dr Bezzina said the idea was to create a “prototype” program to replicate at other regional galleries across NSW.

Headspace Community Development Officer Byron Williams said the concept had enormous potential throughout regional Australia.

“We have three elements that are ready to be connected. Art galleries are really willing, headspace is really willing and our young people are really willing to engage in art,” he said.

The pilot program is jointly funded by Council and the NSW Government’s Children and Young People Wellbeing Recovery Initiative.


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