The arts and health program of the 16th National Rural Health Conference, held on 2‑4 August 2022 in Brisbane, saw a colourful spectrum of interactive performances that got conference delegates moving, as well as mindful and refreshed.
Assembled by arts and health coordinator Nigel Lavender, from Momentum Arts, the program brought together performers and artists highlighting the value of art to people’s overall health and wellbeing.
‘In curating the program, I sought out artists whose work was relevant to health and social wellbeing, identifying Queensland performers from a range of genres in a blend of stage and foyer events,’ said Nigel.
Songwoman Maroochy of the Turrbal People, who are Traditional Custodians of Meanjin (Brisbane), officially opened the conference by welcoming the delegates to Country with her mesmerising lyrics that told stories of lifelong connection with the lands and waters.
Felicity Chapman’s yarns were an exceptional part of the arts and health program as she shared her gift of weaving with the delegates. Ngamumu (For Mothers) enabled a truly creative space that supported mothers and babies, integrating ancestral practices into parenting.
‘We had meaningful personal and professional conversations about the importance of arts and cultural practice within the health space and participants were grateful for artistic programming to be part of the event,’ artist Lia Pa’apa’a from Ngamumu said.
Mikarla Teague, activist and creative arts therapist, brought out her passion for ‘artworks with a purpose’, inspiring people with her painting to stand up and take action. The artwork was created during the conference with the participation of delegates.
Rebecca Dostal and the Puppetarium’s humour lightened up the mood in the otherwise serious conversations surrounding rural health accessibility challenges. Ruby and Beryl Pearl, the two life-size 85-year-old Golden Girls puppets were their usual selves with their politically and socially incorrect outbursts.
‘We really enjoyed being able to bring a smile to people’s faces,’ they said.
The delegates also said hello to the Mask Family, who gave silent representations of the joy of human interaction. Their visual and interactive art form was a unique addition that transcended language, as well as cultural and geographic barriers – an apt theme for a conference that aimed to bridge gaps in rural healthcare accessibility.
Dance and music were an integral part of the program. The Stairwell Project immersed the delegates in their soothing sounds. The musicians drove home the important message that music and art are essential elements in the healing process and general wellbeing.
InRhythm took it up a notch with an invigorating drumbeat that got the audience tapping to the beat. They were in sync with the highly energised atmosphere, synchronising and letting go at the same time, helping to release tensions and practice mindfulness.
‘What a blast! We loved working with you all and really appreciate the opportunity to present to your delegates,’ said Tim Orgias, founder of InRythm.
Queensland Ballet showed that posture, bodily awareness and control could do wonders to help stay young and healthy. They demonstrated that dancing is for everyone and it’s never too late to start or recommit to personal wellbeing.
‘The members of our seniors community were very excited to be involved as it allowed them to showcase the work they do on a weekly basis, with an element of performance which is something they very rarely do, but would love to do more of,’ said the Queensland Ballet team.
‘The highlight for me was the final session in which delegates joined a seated dance class with representatives of Dance for Parkinson’s Australia, which was a powerful way to link arts and health in a fun and engaging finale to the whole Conference!’ Nigel Lavender added.
For more information on all our wonderful arts and health performers, visit: www.ruralhealth.org.au/16nrhc/arts-and-health
In addition to the live performances, the arts and health concurrent sessions included diverse presentations that brought home the importance of actively pursuing wellbeing, being strengths- focused and the power of stories.
Delegates learnt how ‘#SnapshotRuralVic’ became a space for sharing stories of life in rural Victoria and creatively responding to pandemic lockdowns. In ‘stILL-Life: stories about living with kidney disease and receiving haemodialysis’, the narrative provided insights into transformative individual journeys. ‘Writing is good medicine: understand writing for wellbeing’, highlighted how writing workshops can unlock individual writing journeys and enhance wellbeing.
Other concurrent sessions were ‘Leaving no-one behind: creative engagement to enable wellbeing and social inclusion’ and ‘Permission to Die: overcoming uncomfortable conversations through the arts’. In both cases, local communities were central to improving wellbeing, including through challenging stigma or exploring taboo subjects.
More details on these engaging sessions can be found at: www.ruralhealth.org.au/16nrhc/program