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FeatureLiving Well

Keep fit. Keep creating. Keep social.

Darnum's 'Kulturhus' can help keep your brain flexible through its offering of diverse creative sensory experiences.

Nov 24, 2022

Words: Gippslandia

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A grandmother takes the hand of her grandchild; in unison, they brace themselves against a biting Böhm breeze and plod towards the Kulturhus beyond the rows of identical apartments. They’re both eager to advance their needlework – although their attention spans never align.

Arts & Health Gippsland founder Rebecca ‘Bec’ Vandyk-Hamilton explains that the European Kulturhus (House of Culture) was developed as a socialist mechanism to provide a space for those living in the tiny post–World War II apartments to carry out their hobbies and creative pursuits.

“Government recognised that giving people a space to carry out their hobbies decreased the need for municipal care, because the community developed their own clubs and groups based on their interests, and the group then supported itself. The older people supported each other, and organically created their own succession planning, with younger members nurtured and brought into the group, slowly taking on the responsibilities of leadership.”

Culture houses in this period typically comprised a theatre, library and a concert/dance hall (large multipurpose space), with space and equipment to carry out various pastimes, frequently traditional folk arts and crafts.

Many parts of Europe still celebrate the role of the culture house today, and they often still serve in preserving folk arts, such as traditional music, language, needlework, carving and dancing, as well as acting as a hub for community-based groups.

“Choosing a different way of being, a different sensory experience, keeps the brain flexible.”

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Thanks to Arts & Health Gippsland, a Kulturhus has landed in West Gippsland. While it isn’t a stark mid-century Brutalist beauty or a modern, elegant timber auditorium, a gorgeously utilitarian detachable classroom is filled with happy art makers just like its more architecturally revered brethren.

Bec says, “A space where a community can create together results in a group of people who not only share a creative pursuit but also, incidentally, creates shared health care.

“Each each group member subconsciously takes on health surveillance for the rest of the group: someone will notice if another member is not
doing well.”

The local Kulturhus is also home to Bec’s continued personal artistic pursuits, something that allows her to “process my mental matrix: my thoughts, memories, motivations, emotions and deliberations”.

“I began in earnest in 1996, when my partner at the time had a rock climbing accident and broke his neck. He spent nine months in intensive care, and rehabilitation, coming home in a wheelchair, permanently disabled – a huge life change. Working through the shock and trauma of this experience began my artistic practice, and I continued to practice art as therapy leading up to, and after, his suicide four years later.

“Similarly, I used my arts practice to assist in my experience as a mother, and as a mature student completing further education (psychology honours and a Master of Public Health) while juggling life at home, commuting to Melbourne, and running a photography business.”

The outcomes from some recent arts nurture courses at Kulturhus with adolescents are interesting and powerful, as they create ‘memory jars’ out of clay or paint their emotions.

As Bec says, “Vast research describes how participants in artmaking activities experience a very palpable sense of wellbeing, both at the time of the creating, and in ongoing ways as the art making becomes a
regular practice.

“Making, crafting, acting, singing or dancing – these physically-involving behaviours, when combined with creative brain processes and shared with others – become part of an endorphin-producing sequence that can ‘ward off’ the blues; creating new ways of handling emotions, reinforced by social connection and camaraderie.

“You can exert your will on something, seeing an outcome, which relates to accomplishment, as well as concepts of risk and reward. Your mind can go ‘on holiday’ as you create. You can also physically manifest something internal that can then be seen or heard by others, offering the opportunity to be better understood.”

Space 22
on ABC
is a great resource to learn more about the arts and mental health. As is And, Bec is part of a working group through the Churchill Medical Centre that is trialling the UK concept of ‘social prescribing’, where medical practitioners prescribe sessions with a link worker who then “gives people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’’ and taking a holistic approach to the people’s health and wellbeing”. They connect people to community groups and services for practical and emotional support.

Bec’s own prescription for a good life in Gippsland relates to the current issues of social isolation and, in her words, “couch velcro”: “An unintended consequence of our recent desire to stay home is a decline in social confidence. Without regular socialisation, we get rusty in our ability to listen, in our ability to read social and physical cues, and with our own responses, including body language and facial expressions. Withdrawing from socialising is not a bad thing per se, but long-term it makes returning to being a fulfilled social animal harder. Choosing a different way of being, a different sensory experience, keeps the brain
flexible. And, as often as possible, choose the social thing, event, or experience.”

Gippslandia - Issue No. 24

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