Artsenta: the First 30 Years by Kath Beattie
We are often oblivious to the health initiatives taking place in our communities. This came home to me forcefully while reading the recently published history of Artsenta, a Dunedin-based supportive art studio which started life at Cherry Farm Psychiatric Hospital in the 1980s. Artsenta was the initiative of Dr Julia Aranui-Faed, and grounded in her belief that creativity is integral to well-being. Artsenta: the First 30 Years charts the evolution of this idea in practice, an idea whose philosophy is well-expressed by long-time Artsenta staff member Heather Martin:
… to focus on art and the well bit inside everyone”.
Dr Julia Faed first worked at Cherry Farm in 1978, returning in the early 1980s and becoming Superintendent in 1984. After attending a conference in Australia where she visited a Creative Expression Unit at Graylands Hospital in Perth, Dr Faed was inspired to create a similar unit at Cherry Farm where activities could promote artistic expression and involvement of the wider community. Through art and exhibitions, Dr Faed saw that the wider community could have a non-threatening and fun way to be involved with those suffering from mental illness. The Taniwha project was one such example:
On 5 November 1987, large colourful moas were brought to life and paraded around the grounds of Cherry Farm hospital in a dramatic ‘laying to rest’ of the taniwha, or monster, or mental illness. Directed by John Hudson, the Taniwha project was three months in the making and involved staff and residents of Cherry Farm, clients from Corstorphine Activities Centre and the Social and Rehabilitation Centre, and members of the local community (including children from the Waikouiti, Seacliff and Karitane primary schools, East Otago High School pupils, the Palmerston Girl Guides Company and local Country Women’s Institutes).
Dr Faed’s original vision was formulated at a time of great change when a new emphasis on care in the community led to the closure of psychiatric hospitals. People who had come to depend on Cherry Farm as their home had to learn new skills so that they could succeed living in a more independent manner. Aware that the hospital would eventually face complete closure (which finally occurred in 1992), Dr Faed worked hard to ensure that the Creative Expression Unit was an independent entity which would have an on-going life.
While still at Cherry Farm, the dedicated staff of the unit worked hard to bring colour, creativity, music and the community into the hospital. That commitment to creativity continued when Artsenta moved to a studio space in Dunedin (initially in Filluel Street, then at the Baghdad Café, Crawford Street and now at 462 Princes Street). Throwing pots, making puppets and kites, knitting, felting, making music – these are a few of the many creative activities that clients can undertake. ‘Arty Pants’ events have provided nights of huge fun. All of these endeavours have been overseen by dedicated and inspired staff who promote every individual’s inherent creative talents. Thanks to Kath Beattie, we now have a good record of a place that sees creativity as a vital component of health.
Artsenta: the First 30 Years (Dunedin: Creative Arts Trust, 2015) is available from Artsenta, 462 Princes Street, Dunedin, ph 03 477 9566.
Barbara Brookes is co-editor of Corpus.
Kath Beattie is a Dunedin writer who has published several books for children and adults.