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  • Writer's pictureSheree Hoddinett

The Art of Healing Through Connection

First Nations elder and artist Uncle Alan Parsons has combined his talent as an artist and his passion with creating change around mental health awareness through an art project. It’s already making a difference with further potential to grow.

First Nations elder Uncle Alan Parsons (above left) uses his talent as an artist and his passion to help others to make a difference and create awareness on mental health and also within the different ability sector. His never give up attitude and a commitment to bring about change propel him to get things done. Uncle Alan proudly calls Caboolture home and jumped at the chance late last year to help put together a Healing Through Connection art workshop in conjunction with Bernie O’Regan at Connections Inc.

“The only way things move forward is when we become involved with the process. For change to happen, we have to be part of the change.

The workshop was the perfect opportunity to create a collaborative work of art celebrating healing through connection which was then presented during Mental Health Week in October. The artwork was designed by Uncle Alan and then created at the workshop on September 8 by a group of 30 people who had been invited to take the small pieces they were given, put them back together and make it whole. The image is symbolic of a person's mental health being healed by individuals coming together is a healing setting using art as therapy.

Uncle Alan is certainly no stranger to experiencing the ups, downs and uncertainty in life. He is a part of the stolen generation and it wasn’t until the age of 30 when his adopted father died that he was introduced to his Aboriginal culture. It was at this time he went walkabout to find his cultural identity. It’s through his own personal experiences and a want to help others on their own healing journey, whatever that may look like, is a big part of why he contributes so much to the community. Uncle Alan believes for there to be any change we have to be part of the change.

The artwork created by Uncle Alan Parsons was used as part of the project.

“The only way things move forward is when we become involved with the process,” Uncle Alan says. “For change to happen, we have to be part of the change.

“I am very involved with the different ability sector (I don’t use the word disability) and I have learnt a lot about different facets of life and how they affect people but I have also been a part of making changes (including legislation) and seeing them implemented.

“It’s knowing the changes makes all the difference in someone’s life and that’s part of the process.”

Connections Inc. is a not-for-profit community service organisation that provides individual disability support, training, programs and advocacy in mental health and wellbeing. The vision of Connections is to improve mental health and support people with disability in the community and achieves this by providing relevant evidence-based learning and life skill development programs that assist in the facilitation of recovery. They see themselves as an agent for change rather than just a service provider, where they acknowledge the strengths and abilities of those using their services, as well as working on expanding on people's capabilities. Connections also understands and values the need for activities, information, training and workshops to be delivered within the community, which assists people to understand and manage their own mental health and well-being.

Having met Bernie some time ago and also knowing how things work out in the community, when the project centred around mental health arose, Uncle Alan knew he had to be involved.

“It initially centred around a program I had seen on the ABC called Space 22. It was about a group of about seven or eight people who had been challenged in life for one reason or another, who were struggling emotionally and mentally,” Uncle Alan says. “And so what happened was they had these different modalities that they were trying to introduce to these people to assist them to be more confident in being who they really are. It was about giving them validity and trying to navigate through and pushing those past things to one side so they could become more true to themselves.

“One of the initiatives they had which I thought was amazing where they had a portrait done of a woman’s face and they segmented it into smaller like puzzle portions, printed it out and gave it to each person to replicate not knowing what the big picture was.

“These people were not artists but they gave it a go because it engages other parts of your brain in the process. Even though you might not be comfortable with it, it's healthy, it's creative, it's engaging. It is encouraging you to step outside that little nice little comfort zone box that you have created.”

Uncle Alan highlights the idea as being an important step in engaging the other part of your thought process, the other part of your creativity and your mental approach to a project from a different perspective. Tasked with creating an artwork for the workshop Uncle Alan zeroed in on the idea of creating a piece that was symbolic of working together but also supporting, encouraging and showing those who needed it, that they were growing as a consequence of all that.

“It has been very well received,” Uncle Alan says of the project. “I have also been involved with Metro North Health as well and the chief executive of Caboolture Hospital heard about what I was doing and she took the time to come along, join us and see it all unfold.

“She also sat with me for a little bit and we had a great conversation. She saw what we were doing and the potential for what it could become. So it was offered up to be used for mental health and because it’s transportable it can go anywhere and grow from here.”

Connections Inc. is now working on having the artwork from the project mounted at the hospital as a permanent display.


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