ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 8, Autumn 2013

Art on the margins

Art on the margins

Can art help those who have slipped through the cracks? Caitlin Ganter spoke to Associate Professor Lindsay Farrell who studied art and the marginalised at the world’s largest museum and research facility

Life on the outer is hard. Thousands of Australians suffer from social exclusion due to key factors such as mental illness, isolation and lack of education. Issues such as substance abuse, poverty and homelessness only make matters worse, and the effects of experiencing profound marginalisation are difficult to reverse.

Yet hope is not lost, and research by Associate Professor Lindsay Farrell, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is discovering the positive effect art can have on those who feel excluded from society.

Associate Professor Farrell spent two months as a visiting scholar at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, investigating the effectiveness of art as a means of social inclusion and of promoting wellbeing for people on the margins.

“For some years I have worked with art in prisons, hospitals and marginalised communities, and I have developed approaches for evaluating art as a means of social inclusion and wellbeing,” said Associate Professor Farrell. “The effect art has on the community is very relevant to museums, not least because museums are constantly challenged with providing contexts for a range of people, including the marginalised, to engage with ‘life world values’ through art.”

The project, Museums on the Margins, investigated social inclusion perspectives, policies and practices, and was primarily focused on the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum where the project was based.

Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities.

The Anacostian Museum was the first nationally funded community-based museum in the United States. Opened in 1967, it was intended to be a cultural resource for the community of Anacostia, which is home to a significant African American community. It still aims to challenge perceptions, broaden perspectives, generate new knowledge, and deepen understanding about the everchanging concepts and realities of community.

“The Anacostia Smithsonian Museum was most interested in looking at survey tools I have used at ACU and the results from our work with previous projects.”

The research also investigated how museums and the experience of art affects people on the outer.

“Art is an important contributor to the wellbeing of the community, and internationally research is highlighting the importance of art as a means of learning and community engagement."

“This research has significantly advanced knowledge in the development of methods to measure the way art helps with social inclusion and wellbeing on a national and international scale."

“The Smithsonian Anacostia Museum was a case study of exemplary practice.”

“Often those on the margins use art to make meaning and sense of their lives. Thus this project investigated the social experiences and meaning-making of people engaging with art on the margins."

“As well, the ACU Catalyst Clemente project involved arts education for people on the margins. This has included people who have experienced issues such as homelessness and mental illness.”

The Catalyst Clemente program is a groundbreaking university education program, which aims to break the cycle of poverty, inequity and social injustice for Australians facing multiple disadvantages and social isolation.

Art is a passion for Professor Farrell and he is committed to his research, art and inspiring others.

“For 18 years I have challenged, motivated and inspired marginalised communities to express themselves and develop as artists and researchers through museums on margins strategies, appreciative engagement and art collaborations.

“I am committed to continuing my research into 2013 with two funded research projects about art in the community.”

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