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Background: The therapeutic potential of art to contribute to mental health, well-being and recovery is widely recognised. Benefits include improved self-esteem, self-confidence, communication skills, personal relationships, and fostering greater social inclusion. The Rural Art Roadshow is a collaborative art project between the University of Tasmania and not-for-profit mental health and disability support service, Wellways. The Rural Art Roadshow is a travelling art exhibition that takes selected artworks submitted by individuals affected by mental illness, to 4-6 small rural towns across Tasmania, Australia. The broad aim of the project is to help reduce stigma and promote a positive image of mental health in rural communities. Whilst the positive impact of art exhibitions has been recognised, there is little research that reports on the experience of participating artists. This study aimed to gain an understanding of the experience of artists impacted by mental illness who participated in the Rural Art Roadshow. Method: A mixed-methods approach was employed. The qualitative data described the experience of 23 artists (17.4% male) who exhibited their work. Data were collected during a series of semi-structured interviews and thematically analysed. This was augmented by survey data (n = 145) from visitors to the exhibition over 3 successive years. Results: Three overarching themes were identified from the interviews: Community Impact, Social Gains and Personal Gains. Sub-themes were: community inclusion, engagement in rural communities, mental health promotion, mental health literacy, connecting with others, enhancing family relationships, creating conversations, positive sense of self, increased self-efficacy and professional recognition for artists. These themes were consistent with visitor survey results. Conclusions: The findings demonstrate that community art exhibitions can have social and personal benefits for participating artists whilst contributing to rural community wellbeing. This is particularly important for rural communities where isolation and stigma around mental illness is often exacerbated. The Rural Art Roadshow is a promising mental health promotion approach for rural and remote areas of Australia. Future research could assess the community health gains of Rural Art Roadshow participation as well as explore the impact on local service providers.
Barnett, T., De Deuge, J., & Bridgman, H. (2019). Promoting mental health through a Rural Art Roadshow: Perspectives of participating artists. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 13(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13033-019-0302-y