The Cunningham Dax Collection – Good Works?
Eric Cunningham Dax AO was a man of vision. As a pioneering advocate for mentally unwell people, he regarded it essential that they were given voice by linking art production to their treatment and diagnosis. From Dax’s insight a unique collection of art, the Cunningham Dax Collection (CDC), was developed. It is used today to educate and encourage the community to empathise with and to destigmatise the experience mental illness during their lifetimes.Annually more 20,000 people see these artworks, exhibited at The Dax Centre, in numbers of forums. Audiences include ~4000 high school students, but also university students at all levels, medical and para-medical visitors, viewers on the Internet and social media, and the public. Initial responses are positive, but the underpinning, unanswered question to be proven is whether learning based on this art does increase understanding of mental health. Museum evaluations show peoples’ interaction with art and creativity promotes health, but they do not necessarily encompass assessment of whether such interaction offers a lasting change in viewers’ understanding of [mental] health. The evaluation methods used to date are limited.[i] Impact evaluations are difficult to double blind or randomise. We use evaluation of the learning outcomes of CDC by examining responses to the aims of the learning. These include:
- Building and expanding understanding of the experiences of people with mental ill-health using the CDC’s works,
- engaging audiences in the programs built around the CDC to promote understanding in order to seek mental health through conversation, study and insight of the works.
Methods include literature evaluation and evaluation of initial pre- and post- viewing sessions and their suitable follow up to establish the impacts over time. Literature exploration helps in choosing methods supporting evaluation of longer-term health outcomes of studying directed artworks. Initial searches of the literature show less than 10 academic papers where exploration of artworks has led to positive health outcomes although the production and creativity of art is strongly supported by impact evaluations described in the literature. Similarly, the value of museum interaction with positive health outcomes is well supported.
Initial results show positive outcomes of art based learning[ii]. Impact evaluation methods for discussion and critique will be presented along with results of medical student evaluations demonstrating early responses to learning sessions. Reliable evaluation of learning outcomes is vital to assure ongoing value and vitality of The Dax Centre’s work with the Collection.
[i] Kelaher, M, Berman, &, Joubert, L, Curry, S, Jones, R, Stanley, J and Johnson, V, 2007, 'Methodological approaches to evaluating the impact of community arts on health', UNESCO Observatory E-Journal, vol. 1.
[ii] Sammut et al, Jackson et al. Arts and Health, Sydney 2015.
Elizabeth M. Dax (EMD) graduated MB, BS (1971) then received a PhD (Monash, 1977) and an MD (Melbourne 1989). After 13 years in USA at the National Institutes of Health, she returned to direct and develop the National Serology Reference Laboratory, Australia. The NRL administers the quality assurance for blood borne virus tests and testing nationally and internationally. NRL administers an international programme on laboratory systems improvement and is a WHO Collaborating Centre. She has authored over 100 publications and 2 books. More recently, EMD has concentrated on board work (Graduate AICD) and is chair of the boards of the Dax Centre and St Hilda’s College, University of Melbourne. EMD was awarded a Membership of the Order of Australia for services to Medicine (2001).Back