As part of NAIDOC Week celebrations, SBS will feature the film ‘Art Centres Keep our Elders Connected’ – sharing the essential role of art centres in supporting older people — to keep culture, Country, language, and kin strong for their communities.
The film explores the significant role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled art centres play in nurturing the health and wellbeing of older people and people living with dementia in remote communities across Australia.
“This film is an invitation to listen to Elders, artists, and staff from three Aboriginal community-controlled art centres as they share their stories. It celebrates the vital role of Elders who are the backbone of these art centres,” NARI Research Fellow, Paulene Mackell, said.
There are approximately 90 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled art centres across Australia, with the majority in geographically remote locations.
While each of the centres is diverse and responsive to the communities in which they are situated, they all provide a place to maintain a connection to Country, and to share histories and culture with younger people – a priority identified by the older artists, directors, and staff.
The film was developed as part of a research collaboration initiated by the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI). The research shows art centres are important and safe places for older artists to fulfil their roles as Elders, and to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and culture to younger generations within their communities.
Annette Lormada, from the Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency, said: “It’s important…not only for us, but the younger ones coming behind. I mean, it’s good for everybody…to come in [to Mangkaja], young to old, to be together here.”
Roseranna Larry, from Ikuntji Artists, said: “I’m happy too, you know. Making me think back, I used to listen to my father’s aunties singing. That’s why I’m really interested with this…it’s our law. That’s why I am coming to the art centre.”
Roslyn Malay, from The University of Western Australia, said: “You can see the difference it makes when they come to Mangkaja. It’s something that’s part of them. They come to share their stories, tell their histories, share their culture, and language, to the younger generations – which is brilliant. Where else could you get something like this in a cultural way?”
The research also learnt that many centres are delivering direct care for older artists including helping them with errands, prompting them to take their medication, providing meals and mobility assistance, and supporting them to access and navigate services.
“Visiting an arts centre, you will find people of all ages having a cup of tea, working together on a painting, weaving works, or screen-printing textiles for exhibitions, commissions and gallery sales. But then you’ll also find meals and wheels being dropped off, health and aged care staff popping in to catch up with older people, and family visiting from nearby communities,” Ms Mackell said.
Dr Maree Meredith, Director of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at Flinders University, said: “It’s a very special model as it has the cultural, the social, as well as the economic, that come together in a holistic way.”
Margaret Smith, from Tjanpi Desert Weavers, said: “I fell in love with it [making Tjanpi], so I kept doing it. It sort of brought peace to my life, you know – peace and harmony, and changed my lifestyle round.”
The film and research emphasise calls from art centres for greater resourcing and formal recognition of their role.
“We need creative policy, funding and knowledge-making approaches to keep older people well and generations connected. Art centres are grounded in their communities, and as the film shows, there is so much to learn from their expertise and leadership in this space,” Ms Mackell said.
Art Centres Keep our Elders Connected will air on SBS on Wednesday 6 July 2022 at 3:10 pm as part of NAIDOC Week, and will be available on SBS On Demand.