Coming next year….

Art From the Heart is a model developed by Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) in Sydney in 2011 as an experimental art project applied in conditions of harm reduction low threshold service.  As it was extremely well accepted by the service users and grew bigger and more popular each year, CAHMA decided to apply the similar model slightly adjusted for its space, working style and general conditions of AOD industry in the ACT - to gather majority of Canberra AOD and social services to organise it and participate in it together. Check out this short video about MSIC's Art from the Heart.

The essence of the Art From the Heart model is:
1. Supporting people with AOD issues to produce the artworks.
2. Organising the selling exhibition of the artworks and designing the exhibition launch as a strong cultural event and a mean of social inclusion.

The exhibition launch is designed to be a significant cultural event, with community leaders and guest speakers from political and cultural establishment who have deep understanding of complex issues connected to AOD use.

The purpose of the event is social inclusion of one of the most, marginalised, discriminated and stigmatised group in our society – people who use drugs.

The core values and principals of the project: (what makes this project different/special)

  • Telling the story. People who use drugs have no outlet to tell their story although they have some of the most powerful stories of human experience that everybody can relate to. Telling their stories are therapeutic for them and for the whole society.
  • The power of art to change people’s lives (for many service users the art project was a first step towards starting to believe in themselves, creating a positive picture about themselves, deciding to continue education (enrolling painting courses at TAFE for example).
  • Acknowledging, supporting and developing talents and skills of people who use drugs.
  • Using the power of art for the social justice cause- tackling stigma, changing the narrative about people who use drugs, raising awareness about complexity of AOD issues, fighting demonisation of people who use drugs and sensationalism that media use to perpetuate stigma and discrimination of this community.
  • Art as a tool for social inclusion – telling the broader community good story about people who have AOD issues, story about their talents and strengths, providing a platform for broader community members to connect, empathise and identify with the artists through their artworks and stories.
    The broader political/national context of the event:
  • Since AOD issues (from pill testing to ice and opioid dependence) are a national emergency and raising awareness about the complexity of AOD issues is of national interest for all Australians – almost every family has someone affected by this problem in one way or the other
  • As this is part of our current social national dialogue (pill testing, drug law reform, criminalisation of our sons and daughters). It is the dialogue about law keeping current with societal trends and norms. This represents a fabric of social change which needs more space and different platforms to be discussed.
  • This is reconciliation in practice – it is an opportunity for Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islander and white artists to exhibit their artworks together, united with the common lived experience of discrimination and marginalisation because of their drug use, is the grassroots reconciliation art movement. Also, it will provide more space for Aboriginal and main stream services to unite their forces and work together for the benefit of all.

The benefits of the art project we have noticed in our service users:

  • Improved self-esteem, self-worth, pride and sense of achievement among clients.
  • Opportunity to express, through art, emotions, trauma, life experiences, grief and joy
  • A focus on something other than drug use
  • A sense of engagement with others
  • A feeling of ownership of the project
  • A feeling of relaxation whilst painting
  • Important impact of receiving positive feedback
  • Tangible therapeutic value and observable benefits for clients with mental health issues.
  • (Re)connection to culture for our indigenous service users.

Besides that, we noticed many positive outcomes that benefited our service, such as:

  • Service provision moved towards more holistic approach
  • Helped us do our ‘core business’ better
  • Better and deeper connection with our service users
  • Easier linking service users into other referral pathways.
  • Positive public relations
  • Social inclusion and connection with the local community.

In addition to that organising this type of event it is a great opportunity for establishing partnership and cooperation between different AOD and social services to showcase the work they are doing with their clients, especially through the art therapy and different artistic activities. This type of high public profile event will encourage more of such activities and inspire agencies to utilise the strength based approach in their work with clients. It would give us opportunity to tackle stigma and discrimination so heavily attached to drug use… to tell a different story about people who use drugs, story about their talents, their inspiration and strengths. It would give opportunity to our service users to feel accepted, appreciated and valued by the broader community, and encourage them to work further on finding their passion and developing their talents.