As part of NAIDOC Week celebrations, SBS will this week feature a film sharing the wide-ranging and essential role of art centres in supporting older people – many of whom are Elders – to keep culture, Country, language, and kin strong for their communities.
The film, Art Centres Keep our Elders Connected, 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,” NARI research fellow, Paulene Mackell, says.
“It celebrates the vital role of Elders who are the backbone of these art centres.”
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 are diverse and responsive to the communities in which they are situated, they all provide a place to maintain 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.
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, says the centres are a wonderful place for a transferal of knowledge and skills, and for socialising.
“It’s important … not only for us, but the younger ones coming behind,” she says.
“It’s good for everybody … to come in [to Mangkaja], young to old, to be together here.”
Roseranna Larry, from Ikuntji Artists, agrees.
“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, says the benefits are clear and easy to observe.
“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 has found 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.
Mackell says 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,” she says.
Dr Maree Meredith, director of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at Flinders University, says 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, says her centre has been life-changing.
“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,” Mackell says.
“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.”