NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Motivation, structure and meaning: the essential role of creative arts

By Professor Jane Davidson — As we move through public zones, we are surrounded by the results of creative arts endeavours: the music that seeps into our consciousness across the aisles in clothes stores or in the local restaurant;  the art that is exhibited in parks and galleries or found the design and fabric of the colossal buildings and monuments in our towns and cities, or even art reproduced to be enjoyed in everyday items such as notebook covers and postcards. 

We are often unwilling consumers – surrounded by the heavy bass beats emanating from the passer-by’s headphones – but for most of us in many places in the world, we have creative arts outputs as constant and invigorating backgrounds to everyday life.

In addition to the prevalence of creative arts in public contexts, given we actively select our ‘own arts’ in our private contexts artworks, plays, poems, novels which – thanks to modern technology – can be carried with us at all times, accompanying our personal day-to-day existence and reflecting our experiences or even aiding us in creating our social identities. Online downloading and portable devices have rendered all types of creative arts instantaneously available at any desired moment.

As the articles in this issue of NiTRO reveal, active engagement in creative arts can produce a raft of strong wellbeing benefits that while punctuating lived experience can bind us together, generate transferable physical and mental wellbeing benefits, and assist in regulating, coordinating and/or recovering physical and psychological skills and behaviours. For those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the results can be startling with creative artistic engagement both assisting to restore the past and forge a sense of connection with people in the present. For the majority, creative arts engagements give motivation, structure and meaning through the psychophysical and social work they do.

We hope this issue displays this impressive array of engagements and benefits. In it,  Frederic Kiernan (Melbourne), interviews Alyson Campbell (Melbourne) and Stephen Farrier (University of London) to learn more about the ‘Feral Queer Camp’.

Alexander Crooke (Melbourne) and Jane Davidson (Melbourne) share the themes that emerged from their research on musicians in the Covid Pandemic.

Carol Brown (Melbourne) explores the relationship between dance, music, health and wellbeing.

Niki Wallace (UNISA), Aaron Davis (UNISA) and Ian Gwilt (UNISA) explain how participation in the process of co-design can deliver wellbeing benefits.

In his second contribution, Frederic Kiernan (Melbourne) unpacks notions of creativity as he highlights the work of the Creativity and Wellbeing Hallmark Research Initiative.

Health Researcher Lisa Moosad (Melbourne) reflects on a recent photographic exhibition and what participation meant for some of its participants.

Sarah Woodland (Melbourne) discusses a rights-based approach to art and culture in incarceration.

Simon-Peter Telford, Lyndal Hordacre Kobayashi, Chloe Cannell, Morgan Chilvers, Jenn Ngo, and Amelia Walker, share how the Critically Creative Reading and Writing Collective (CCRWC) at the University of South Australia proved invaluable during COVID.

Jeanti St Clair (Southern Cross University) outlines the healing and resilience properties of her Flood Stories project.

James Oliver (RMIT) considers health and wellbeing within our institutions, adding an anthropoetic interpretation.

Also in this edition, Vanessa Tomlinson (Griffith), Donna Weston (Griffith), Leah Coutts (Griffith) and Diana Tolmie (Griffith) share their observations of music students in lockdown.

More from this issue

More from this issue

Australia is now entering into a “second convict age”. This was the bold assertion made by Federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh in his recent report on the rising rates of incarceration in Australia. Currently more than 10.74 million people are held in penal institutions throughout the world, and since 2000 the world prison population has grown by almost 24%.

Those of us who work in higher education will be aware of two broad facets in relation to wellbeing at work: That institutions are in some manner concerned about, it and that our workplaces and cultures are not always particularly good for wellbeing.

During the turbulent beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, with threats of extreme global consequences hanging over each word read, each key pressed, those of us early in our careers found a melancholy and perhaps a distaste towards research and work. It was hard to stay the course when the course seemed to be falling out from underneath. Our group provided inspiration and enthusiasm for continuing our work.

I live in Lismore in northern NSW and in 2017 it was devastated by a major flood. Ex-cyclone Debbie had travelled down Queensland’s coast, into the Northern Rivers and hit with a vengeance … I had the urge to provide a space for community reflection on that flood and what we had learned. What I created became Flood Stories.

The Feral Queer Camp, at its most simple, involves pulling together a “gaggle”, a group or gang, of queer people who are interested in performance – this could be theatre makers, audience members, writers – and just travelling together through a series of performances, so that we can build a vocabulary for talking about the works together.

The lockdown that occurred as a result of COVID-19 from March 20, 2020 saw higher music education institutions grappling with how to adapt to teaching in an online context. From the perspective of a performance-based music institution, one year on, this article re-evaluates the challenges relating to embodied peer learning most evident in ensemble classes.

Two dancers face each other two metres apart in a bare studio. Drawing arcs in the air between them with deft counterweighted movement, their mirrored gestures trigger strings of words: “White matter … things to infer … spectral hearing … brain has to save you.” An echolalia or a mashup of phrases representing mental spaces: words and movements cohere and collide in moments of dissonance and convergence.

In 2019, nearly 500 women over fifty participated in a photography event called 500 Strong. Photographer Ponch Hawkes photographed these women posing nude in studio spaces in Melbourne and in Victorian regional towns … to fashion a dialogue about women’s bodies that avoided the clichés of decline and loss, but as an artistic challenge to reimagine ageing representation.

It is well-known musicians enjoy their art form because it blends challenge and satisfaction: playing with a high-level of motor and musical refinement, while facilitating important self-to-other transactions linked to social cohesion, and implicit and explicit wellbeing outcomes. In the early months of 2020, the world went into a self-imposed lock down in response to Coronavirus, and many musicians watched as their whole performance calendars disappear overnight.

Co-design is a robust collaborative approach to design practices and processes that invites participation from multiple stakeholders in shaping and responding to collectively identified problems or issues.

The Creativity and Wellbeing Hallmark Research Initiative (CAWRI) was established in 2019 by a group of senior researchers from seven of the University of Melbourne’s ten faculties to build capacity and foster inter- and cross-disciplinary research collaborations focusing on creativity and wellbeing.