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New Aboriginal arts project focuses on support for elders

ELDER ARTISTS: Artists Dianne Golding, Eunice Porter, Nancy Jackson, Winnie Woods and Melva Davies at Tjanpi Desert Weavers workshop, Warakurna.
ELDER ARTISTS: Artists Dianne Golding, Eunice Porter, Nancy Jackson, Winnie Woods and Melva Davies at Tjanpi Desert Weavers workshop, Warakurna. Jo Foster, Tjanpi Desert Weavers, NPY Women’s Council

AS REPORTS of dementia in remote Aboriginal communities reaches about five times higher than the rest of the country, finding ways to support older people living in those communities and those who care for them is critical.

Researchers at the National Ageing Research Institute have collaborated with a number of organisations to develop a project which will explore the potential of engaging community art centres to support older people in their communities.

Lead researcher Paulene Mackell said her team see an opportunity as a result of the recent reforms in aged care which facilitate consumer directed care.

"We can think outside the box in terms of who has the potential to support older people in their community, particularly in remote settings where choices may be limited in terms of access to the traditional aged care services," Ms Mackell said.

Ms Mackell found when working in a previous job as a coordinator of the aged care assessment service in the Kimberley, that often the older people were at the art centre. "They are community hubs and places where people wanted to be," Ms Mackell said.

ELDER ARTISTS: Alice Nampitjinpa and her daughter Kelly Dixon, from project partner Ikuntji Artists. Dr Chrischona Schmidt.jpg
ELDER ARTISTS: Alice Nampitjinpa and her daughter Kelly Dixon, from project partner Ikuntji Artists. Dr Chrischona Schmidt.jpg Dr Chrischona Schmidt

Her team's project hypothesis is that while the art centres are already supporting older people, which often make up about 30 per cent of the artist population, there is an opportunity to build their capacity in this area.

Ms Mackell also highlighted that older artists have a lot of cultural knowledge that they want to share. This she suggests cements the arts centres as important to the community and its many generations.

The project is a collaboration between NARI, Flinders University, University of Western Australia, and staff and participants of the NPY Women's Council, Mangaka Arts, Ikuntji Artists and Kimberley Aged and Community Services.

"We have found there is a terrific appetite for the project," Ms Mackell

"The staff and boards of all our partners are keen to be involved and to know how to support the older people better so that they can continue to participate in the art centres.

"The staff are not necessarily trained in health and aged care, but in arts or community development. They are hungry for information and they are hungry to find out if the way they are currently supporting older people is the right way."

"They are keen to trial a few ways of enhancing what they are currently doing," she added.

ELDER ARTISTS: Ngarralja Tommy May at work at project partner Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency.
ELDER ARTISTS: Ngarralja Tommy May at work at project partner Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency. Emilia Galatis, Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency

The researchers will look at how the art centres currently provide psychosocial support and will work with each site to identify and trial new initiatives. This could include optimising the art centre environment and how to access support services. 

The unique project, which is being funded by the Federal Government's Dementia and Aged Care Innovation Grant, is expected to be completed in 2019.

It's hoped from the research a model is developed that could be utilised in 90 Aboriginal art centres across remote Australia. 

Topics:  art arts general-seniors-news health indigenous health nari national ageing research institute research wellbeing


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