All societies have a responsibility to help young people develop in ways that increase their capacity to creatively respond to unknown futures and strengthen them, their communities, and the nation.
This project seeks to ask how can we better understand processes that engage socially dislocated young people, build their resilience, and help them to develop their creative dispositions.
In particular, we ask what are the impacts of these processes across different participants, partners and audiences, and what is the range of evidence to support these when we look closely at Big hART, Australia’s most successful ‘social impact of the arts’ company?
Big hART is a multiple national award winning not-for-profit arts company that uses theatre, film, television, paintings, photography, dance, radio and other creative processes to support groups and communities who lack opportunities. It has been recognised nationally as the leader in its field, selected as the only Australian exemplar in an international compendium of practice (Cleveland, 2008), and has since spawned other arts-based not-for-profit companies influenced by its work (www.beyondempathy.org).
Big hART combines multiple art forms to help achieve both art of substance and community with substance. These projects start from the knowledge that the creative process used in arts-based work helps draw out both people’s stories and their ability to make connections with others. The work is informed by a belief that everyone is creative (Adriani, Konnertz, & Thomas, 1979), and that these dispositions and habits of mind can be developed through opportunity and application. Big hART’s work is an Australian manifestation of an international movement towards ‘socially-collaborative’ or ‘new community art’ where art is used for social purposes (Bishop, 2006). Furthermore, the arts health and wellbeing is an emerging global movement that recognises the health and wellbeing properties of creativity and participatory arts. For example, in the USA 45% of hospitals in 2007 incorporate arts and health programs (State of the Field Committee, 2009), and in the UK the Arts Council England and Department of Health are active partners with supporting policy initiatives (Parkinson, 2009). Consequently, social engagement, health and well-being are intimately intertwined.
Founded in 1992, Big hART has worked directly with more than 7,500 individuals in over 30 rural and remote communities. Through arts-based practices Big hART has worked with these communities to assist them address social problems such as domestic violence, drugs misuse, suicide, low levels of literacy, motor accident prevention, truancy, intergenerational addiction and homelessness (www.bighART.org). In each case, Big hART works in a participatory way to respond to issues identified by communities themselves. Consequently, Big hART can be seen as a site of exemplary practice and worthy of further investigation.
Big hART’s practice and the theory that informs it are both important. For example, the practical implications of third space theorising is one notion particularly salient to this research because of the facility it offers in understanding process and product of arts projects (Parris, 2008; Stevenson & Deasy, 2005). Third space is a conceptual and imaginative environment (or set of opportunities) where learning and creativity combine to produce benefits for individuals and communities around them (Bhabha, 1994; Greenwood & McCammon, 2008; Rutherford, 1990). Big hART has a distinctive way of creating third space for creativity, learning and identity formation, and addressing fragile communities developed through 18 years of successful practice. Following on from Fine, Weis, Centrie & Robert’s work (2000 p. 132), these opportunities “inspire re-educative possibilities, [offer] new ways to produce ‘common sense’ and reimagine social possibilities”. Consequently, a better understanding of this work will reveal benefits that accrue, effective processes used, and the stock and flow of creative ideas, tools and people used to benefit individuals, communities, and the nation, and how we can make judgements of quality in such work.