The prolonged drought has made it tough for the 1,143 residents living in the small town of Brewarrina, 800km north west of Sydney. Jen Shearer at Brewarrina Shire Council came up with an art project initiative to add a splash of colour to the town and improve the community’s mental health. The result is a true collaboration of art and indigenous culture that has transformed Brewarrina and the people living there.
Mental health art project
Jen Shearer asked Andi Mether, Managing Director and ARTchitect at Zest Events International to help her with the project. They were successful in obtaining a Community Well-being grant from Western NSW Primary Health Network to artistically reinvigorate the public amenities block and levee banks.
The majority of the Brewarrina population is indigenous. Local teachers, students and trainees were involved in the mental health art project from concept to completion. Art materials and catering supplies were sourced locally to support local Aboriginal businesses. It is also hoped that the artwork will encourage tourism to benefit the local economy.
Getting everyone involved
With the help of teacher Ann-Marie Nolan, Zest’s Andi Mether put together a Study Guide for the students of Brewarrina Central School. “It was important to get the youth involved in the mental health art project, not only as part of their education, but so they had a sense of purpose and achievement,” Andi said. “The students were our ‘clients’, and I asked for their input about local culture, indigenous stories and what Bre means to them.”
Using the children’s inspirational messages, Andi put together a brief for artists John Murray and Jenny McCracken. John is a landscape artist who is also renowned for whimsical caricatures of birds and animals. Jenny is an international mural artist, painter and Australia’s most highly-awarded pavement artist.
Amazing and vibrant artwork
“To try to describe the finished art does not do justice to the great mix of culture, nature, humour and talent in the work,” Andi said. “I particularly like the drum-playing goanna, the beautiful finches and the air-borne caravan! As our artists are non-indigenous, they painted in their own style and the children added the finishing touches with traditional dreamtime painting. From depressing grey walls and a beige amenity block sprang this amazing and vibrant artwork, all thanks to this cultural collaboration.”
“What has particularly excited me about this mental health art project is how a whole team of people came together not just to paint pictures, but to transform a town,” Andi said.
Sense of pride in the mental health art project
People stop to take photos of the artwork, which gives the community a sense of pride. The project has enabled the students to express themselves via art, and develop art skills and maybe an interest in a future career. Their mental health and resilience have been improved through participation in this exciting adventure. There is certainly a sense of renewed hope in the town thanks to Zest Events International and Bre teamwork.
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