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Art in the Park
Art in the Park
04 author

Leanne Schubert,
Casual Senior Research Assistant, The Univeristy of Newcastle, Australia

04 author

Mel Gray,
Professor of Social Work, The University of Newcastle, Australia

Safe at Home
A community intervention to address domestic violence through the Arts

Bringing creativity to the advocacy table means providing community members, who might not ordinarily engage in such activities, with opportunities for direct participation. We understand creativity as ‘the ingenious, imaginative and proficient application of what is already known’ (Rapoport, 1968, p. 143). To advocate creatively means extending our practice and thinking in imaginative ways. Tuner (2000) identified a tenuous link between creativity and empowerment, suggesting a reciprocal relationship in which to ‘be creative [is] to actively pursue empowerment; those who are empowered engage in creativity’ (p. 11). In this sense, advocating creatively might be viewed as enhancing our practice by ‘simultaneously committing to the tradition of empowerment’ (Turner, 2000, p. 11). Within social work practice, it has been said that creativity: increases tolerance of conflict, ambiguity, anxiety, and disorder; encourages intellectual openness and receptivity to new information and ideas; stimulates divergent and convergent thinking; and promotes competency, flexibility, imagination, and insight (Rapoport, 1968; Ringel, 2004; Siporin, 1988; Turner, 1999).

hese views are consistent with contemporary literature on creativity (see, for example, Bohm, 2004; Csikszentmihalyi, 1997), where the locus of creativity has shifted from the creative genius to the normal individual (Gunaratnam, 2009). Thus, everyone has the capacity to be creative. Combining advocacy with creativity stimulates and enables practitioners and lay people alike to respond to complex problems via novel and imaginative solutions (Turner, 1999; Ringel, 2004). We choose to advocate in creative rather than non-creative ways because we are interested in the relationship between social work and art. We are intrigued by how creative and artful approaches engage others to facilitate social change. In general, creative methods of advocacy are diverse and can be applied in any number of circumstances – such is the nature of innovative thinking and acting. The Safe at Home project, conducted across the Cessnock Local Government Area (LGA) in Australia between 2007 and 2011, had an explicit agenda of raising community awareness about domestic and family violence. It advocated for the idea that everyone has the right to be ‘safe at home’. We used the term creative interventions to describe the work of Safe at Home and recognised creative advocacy as embedded within the awareness-raising agenda. The project aimed to develop, test, implement, and evaluate a creative social (advocacy) intervention that would highlight and raise awareness of domestic and family violence across the whole community. Its goal was to advocate for safety at home for all families in three low socio-economic communities working in partnership initiated by an anti-violence network (the Network).

Top: The cutout project with a local playgroup. Bottom: The cutout project at a local housing estate health promotion activity day.

Using art is a common strategy for raising awareness about domestic and family violence. Two routes led us to advocate creatively about this issue – a long practice history in the area where the project was conducted, and a shared interest in the potential of combining art and social work to achieve social change. The three-year Safe at Home intervention program comprised eight interrelated components and five major artworks, two community events, and an exhibition of work at various sites. There had been no Australian studies examining this kind of intervention and our desire to build a bridge between research and practice and develop an evidence base for this kind of work led to the project as part of a doctoral study (Schubert, 2012). This collaborative project actively involved participants in decision making about its design and development, and the implementation of the art-making processes (Schubert, 2011a, 2011b). Potential creative advocacy strategies explored included: a T-Shirt campaign; a wall painting, mural or mosaic; a community garden; a poster and coaster campaign; a tea towel campaign; an advertising campaign on cereal boxes; community exhibitions; billboards; a dramatic performance; bookmarks; a playground installation; and body cutouts with pre-schoolers and their parents.

The empirical aspect of the project comprised a community-wide survey exploring attitudes toward domestic and family violence from which emerged five clear, anti-violence messages:

  1. Domestic violence IS a crime.
  2. Domestic and family violence. STOP I don’t like it!
  3. Everyone has the right to feel safe, especially at home.
  4. A happy home = A safe home.
  5. Domestic violence affects neighbours too.

All of the artworks and awareness-raising objects were created through a series of collaborative workshops and events with different parent and children. Art for the Park engaged local residents in generating ideas through conversations, painting, drawing, video, photography, a sausage sizzle, and a reptile show promoting safe homes for pets. The cutout project (Domestic and Family Violence – STOP! I don’t like it) create a work that would symbolically advocated for the safety of children who were victims of domestic and family violence. Working first with preschool and later older children, parents traced their child’s body onto medium-density fibreboards and painted them with their children and their parents. Off site, the figures were cut out with a jigsaw, finished with a black outline, and clear sealed in cutouts displayed at the local library.

The posters and coasters campaign involved twelve weekly workshops at a local family support service, where a group of local women created collages, developed the text, and selected images to be used for two sets of posters and coasters displayed in local hotels and clubs.

A series of community exhibitions of works produced during the course of the project were held. Three mosaics were constructed: Respect was a wall mosaic that began at Art for the Park and was displaced at The Cottage, along with a Hopscotch mosaic in the surrounding space, where the younger children played. Snakes and Ladders was the largest mosaic, and comprised children’s drawings on the violence they had seen (Schubert, 2011a, 2011b). These diverse creative activities advocated for being safe at home.

A small post-intervention survey evaluated the awareness-raising success of these creative interventions though the response rate was low. One respondent shared that it was nice to see domestic violence been brought out from behind closed doors the understanding it can happen to anyone no matter where you live. Feedback on the cutouts suggested they had stimulated discussion on domestic violence. One survey respondent said I thought [the pasters and coasters campaign] was great. People need to know it’s not OK, while another said it helps get message across but does not stop people that drink or drugs as brain has gone. Two participants said they were pleased to have a say. Referring to the Snakes and ladders mosaic people commented hope some people understand the message and fantastic. Positively subtle. Fun with a message. The children were delighted to see their drawings in the mosaic.

Achieving widespread attitudinal change via creative advocacy is a long-term process and further investigation was needed to assess this. Nevertheless, Safe at Home was positively received and challenged negative perceptions about the residents in the project communities. It was a once-off, unique project that accelerated the focus on domestic and family violence. The Network learned about creative advocacy from Safe at Home, while the project enhanced its visibility and commitment to sustaining and building on the change initiated through the creative advocacy process.


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