A unique initiative is under way in Pinnaroo, aiming to quantify the health benefits of art-based activities in regional communities.
The Pinnaroo Project is the brainchild of the Mallee Arts Group, which formed eight years ago to increase art and cultural services in the agriculture-based community.
"The MAG formed after the very successful Pinnaroo Wetlands project in 2013," TPP co-chairperson Julie Wallis said.
"During that project - which involved decorating upright timbers with about 70 mosaics - a lot of the community got involved, including the Pinnaroo Primary school. It significantly improved community connectivity.
"After that project, we thought wouldn't it be great to run more initiatives like this in the town? That's when the MAG was established."
For a few years, the MAG ran smaller projects and workshops across Lameroo to Pinnaroo, using mainly local artists.
We wanted to look at how we could help improve the health of the community.
But it was in 2018, during a strategic planning process, that the organisers realised they wanted to make the program more meaningful.
"We (MAG) wanted to look at how we could help improve the health of the community," Julie said.
"We have a great local health service here in Pinnaroo, but it is still a small community, with not a lot of extra specialist services available to us.
"We had seen first-hand the connection between arts and health through the wetlands project, so we thought - why not explore that further, keep improving that community cohesion, and see what the benefits can be to our community."
A steering group of local volunteers, together with arts and health professionals, formed to oversee what would be called The Pinnaroo Project.
Grant funding for the project has been received from the Southern Mallee District Council; Country Arts SA; Regional Arts Australia; the Department of Human Services; Foundation for Rural Regional Renewal and Flinders University's Caring Futures Institute.
TPP is also supported by Open Space Contemporary Arts and Pinnaroo Community Inc.
Flinders University Professor Robyn Clarke and her team will measure the project's impact on community health - both mental and cardiovascular.
During 2021, about 200 Pinnaroo locals were surveyed on their mental and physical health, and present lifestyle.
"The research team will return annually through to 2023 to see if the correlation between arts and health can be quantified, that's our hope," Julie said.
"It would be great if arts could be recognised as a treatment for health disorders and the like. Anecdotally it has been seen, but never officially proven."
The project has a three-year research timeframe, but the steering committee hopes it will become a more permanent fixture in the town.
"We also hope other towns look at this model and see the benefits for their own local health," Julie said.
The Mallee Studio (the project's art and wellbeing hub) has been set up in the town's main street.
Thirty-two workshops were held last year, including pottery, silk painting, podcasting and digital drawing.
Events were also organised at other locations throughout the town, including a comedy night at the Institute, a men's leather workshop at the pub, and Lego printing and lanterns at the Pinnaroo Show.
"The lighting of the lanterns was spectacular," Julie said.
"We had participants ranging from children to grandparents all making the lanterns, which were then paraded as part of the Pinnaroo Show."
In the project's first year, about 320 locals participated in activities run by TPP (from a town population of just over 700), with most of the workshops booking out.
There has been such great support and so much diversity in the types of people participating.
"There has been such great support and so much diversity in the types of people participating," Julie said.
"It is increasing connection within the community, which is really great to see."
There were 14 artists engaged - from city and regional SA - including two from Pinnaroo.
"That's where TPP expanded on the MAG - the project aims to bring services/artists here that we wouldn't normally have access to," Julie said.
"We want to open up people's minds to things that they may have never thought we could have in a small country town, all the while building community connectivity and potentially improving local health and social behaviours."
Julie said the program to-date had been very successful.
"We hope to build on that this year, potentially inviting artists in residence to create more culturally-focused activities that have meaning to the community - large-scale projects that more people can be involved in," she said.
"We also looking forward to the Mallee Studio being open more regularly for people to drop-in and continue growing the skills they have learnt, giving that opportunity to connect with others.
"At the moment we are only open when workshops are on, but this year we hope to employ a hub coordinator to facilitate this drop-in space.
"The project is about building capacity within the community, providing skills that can stay within the community, and are continued, even once The Pinnaroo Project is finished."
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