The healing power of art

Student artworks provide welcome respite for patients as part of a collaborative project with an international award-winning Arts and Health program.

Carly Rowston has been exploring the healing power of art, using her skills to engage with patients, carers, staff and visitors. She has been working with ARTERIE, an international award winning Arts and Health program at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA), in the inner Sydney suburb of Camperdown. Arterie’s multi-pronged art model supports a holistic approach to innovative health support by normalising the hospital experience and easing the side effects of illness such as stress, pain, fatigue, isolation and depression. The participatory programs provide a distraction from treatment and a less clinical atmosphere.

A talented fourth-year Bachelor of Teaching/Bachelor of Arts (Technology) student, Carly has spent three months as an artist-in-residence at RPA designing and  competing her triptych textile work ‘Bodalla’.

As Carly explains, “engaging in artmaking helps to normalise the hospital experience and ease the side effects of illness such as stress, pain, fatigue, isolation and depression.”

ACU Technology students have been working with Arterie as part of a collaborative project established by Dr Belinda von Mengersen, Lecturer in Technology at ACU’s Strathfield Campus. “I’ve been taking students [to Arterie] for the past two years,” Dr von Mengersen said. “Students should have the opportunity to learn in a real-world context, and make a genuine contribution to a real-world problem.”

By designing craft kits for patients and creating colourful, lightweight headscarves for those suffering from hair loss, students address what Dr von Mengersen calls a “genuine design imperative”, by responding to the needs of the hospital community.

One of the requirements of Carly’s artist-in-residence program was to work on her project in the hospital foyer, using this “performative element” to encourage community collaboration. “All people in the hospital community are invited to participate and work with the artist,” she said.

“Collaboration involved inviting people to do simple stamp printing using fresh gum leaves and stitching over the top, which were then included in my artwork. By taking people out of their heads and into their hands I saw firsthand how art can be a powerful communication tool that promotes wellbeing. I had many lovely conversations, often about sewing projects, food, gardens, and family.”

Carly’s finished artwork, ‘Bodalla’, is symbolic of strength and renewal. “It’s inspired by a photograph of a spotted gum forest taken near a favourite family camping spot on the South Coast of NSW. I believe connecting with nature can help us to heal and replenish ourselves.”

‘Bodalla’ is now permanently installed next to the entrance of the hospital’s palliative care ward, which Carly describes as a great honour. “It is amazing to think that my work is displayed in a public space in the hospital. Hopefully people that view it will feel its calmness and serenity. The experience of working with Arterie has opened my eyes to the power of artmaking to calm and heal the mind.”


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