Creativity and Wellbeing

20 minute read

Two women standing facing a colourful street mural

The link between creativity and wellbeing has been suggested for generations, but not well understood. The Creativity and Wellbeing Hallmark Research Initiative is working across disciplines, to learn more about this link and to reveal how creativity can help us to live happier and healthier lives.


The aim of this Hallmark Research Initiative is to develop new frameworks and methods to better understand the link between creativity and wellbeing. These theoretical foundations will be partnered with industry expertise to develop reliable and practical methods for generating wellbeing in society.

It will also develop our understanding of what it means for people to achieve wellbeing and how creativity can be harnessed to achieve this aim.

The initiative brings together experts from various disciplines to investigate the:

  • relationship between creativity and wellbeing
  • impact of creativity on wellbeing across people's lives.

Faculties involved include:

  • Fine Arts and Music
  • Business and Economics
  • Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences
  • Melbourne School of Engineering
  • Melbourne Graduate School of Education
  • Arts
  • Architecture, Building and Planning.

Key questions

  • What barriers and enablers exist to experiences of creativity across different life stages?
  • How do creative activities:
    • optimise cognitive and emotional functions
    • strengthen a sense of identity
    • nurture intellectual growth and social bonds
    • enhance personal and social resilience?
  • What is the immediate and long-term effectiveness of creative activities in maintaining and protecting wellbeing?
  • Which creative activities and tools, including digital and networked technologies, best serve specific wellbeing goals?
  • Which creative activities and tools support creativity in an economically sustainable way, for large numbers of individuals?

The initiative will apply the answers to these questions to recognise the types, roles and values of creativity from numerous disciplinary perspectives, and investigate how best to deliver wellbeing benefit through creative activities.

Research program

The aim of the initiative’s research is to identify how people's wellbeing increases due to participation in creative activities. Research will also explore the role that wellbeing has on a person’s capacity for creativity.

This will be achieved by measuring the impact of creativity on:

  • physical wellbeing
  • memory
  • social connectivity
  • identity affirmation and development
  • personal and social resilience.

The initiative works with the public, government and industry to deliver wellbeing benefits to the community.

Research themes

Creativity and wellbeing

This theme investigates:

  • the immediate and long-term effectiveness of creative activities in maintaining and protecting wellbeing
  • creativity and its capacity to enhance physical and mental health
  • medical and psychological pathways to health and wellbeing.
Related projects
  • Left, Write, Hook: The efficacy of writing and boxing in assisting survivors of sexual trauma in moving towards post-traumatic growth.
  • The Othello theatre in education project: Fostering creativity and wellbeing in the face of high levels of violence against women.
  • Creative spaces for wellbeing: Captain Starlight and the Starlight Express Rooms in Australian Children's Hospitals.

Two people help a woman boxer who is in the corner of the ring. The boxing studio is dimly lit.

Mental health and wellbeing

This theme investigates:

  • the immediate and long-term effectiveness of creative activities in maintaining and protecting wellbeing
  • the history of creativity and its links to the creation of the modern ‘self’.

Interdisciplinary research in this field is also being done through the:

Related projects
  • This is me: Exploring how shared music expression with peers can support psychological wellbeing in autistic young adults
  • Fostering youth wellbeing using music
  • Mental Dance

Two young men smiling, one plays an electric double bass, the other an electric guitar

Black and white image of two older women. one is sitting the other stands behind her with her hands on her shoulder.

Wellbeing and healthy ageing

This theme explores the use of creative activities in older age to:

  • optimise cognitive and emotional functions
  • strengthen identity
  • nurture intellectual growth and social bonds
  • enhance personal and social resilience.
Related projects
  • Through their lenses: Creativity, wellbeing and women's experiences of ageing

Sociological factors and creativity across a lifespan

This theme explores how certain factors influence creativity and wellbeing, including:

  • life stage (for example childhood, older age)
  • gender, race, language as well as socio-economic factors including income and education.

It will also explore:

  • barriers and enablers to experiences of creativity, across various groups of people and life stages
  • wellbeing and cognitive development
  • creative arts education.
Related projects
  • Feral pedagogies: Exploring how queer performance builds queer community, resilience and wellbeing
  • Creating wellbeing – creativity and imagination in community health practice
  • Healthy people, healthy country and healthy art careers: Understanding creativity and cultural identities in new Indigenous artistic practices and industries

A pink and purple patch with a tent and animal claw marks. It says feral queer camp.

Creative technology for wellbeing

This theme explores activities and tools that can serve specific wellbeing goals. This includes digital and networked technologies, including virtual reality.

It includes looking at tools that can:

  • support creativity in an economically sustainable way, for large numbers of individuals
  • increase wellbeing in old age, including reducing the risk of developing dementia
  • increase social connectedness.
Related projects
  • Communities over the airwaves: How the creativity of community language radio promotes wellbeing among new and emerging migrant communities in Australia
  • Community activated placemaking spaces (CAPS): Designing an intergenerational playground

A woman talks into a microphone at a community radio station

Two women sit on deck chairs in the gardens of a connected row of terrace houses

Wellbeing, environment and creativity

This theme explores how our environment can encourage or discourage creativity and wellbeing. It is examining existing environments while proposing alternatives across settings such as:

  • domestic environments including aged care facilities
  • clinical and institutional settings
  • educational environments
  • workplaces.
Related projects
  • Embodying recovery and hope: How drama and youth theatre can respond to eco-anxiety and support recovery in disaster affected communities
  • International students creating comedy to foster wellbeing: 'Are you joking?'


Projects funded in 2021 include:

Stomach ache: an arts-led exploration of the gastrointestinal system

Gastrointestinal complaints that defy diagnosis are widespread, but current medical practices lack the interdisciplinary focus required to treat this complex system. This project explores the gastrointestinal tract as a necessarily interdisciplinary site of research that can be enhanced by the contribution of artists and arts-led research.

The project brings together clinical and arts researchers and uses an innovative approach to embed lived experience within the curation of experimental art-science/art-wellbeing outcomes. The project will develop:

  • 'Stomach Ache' a public event as part of The Big Anxiety Festival in 2022
  • A material archive of objects that characterise patient experience, including food or poo diaries, medicine packaging, or receipts for alternative therapies. This will be used as a curatorial stimulus for future work.


Vanessa Bartlett (Arts), Chamara Basnayake (MDHS), Lindsay Kelley (UNSW), Rachel Marsden (University of Arts, London)

Partner: Jill Bennett, Festival Director, The Big Anxiety

Contact: Dr Vanessa Bartlett, Coordinating Investigator at

Creative exploration of AI to improve learning outcomes and student wellbeing

One of the major technological changes impacting society today is the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is already informing and influencing human decisions in many settings, from "virtual assistants" who can help answer queries to recommender systems that suggest music or movies on streaming sites. We expect the role of AI in society will continue to increase, which may reduce people's sense of agency and reduce wellbeing. However, these effects may be mitigated if people can more easily understand how AI works and see it as a tool in their control.

We will develop software tools and educational methods to help people understand AI through creative play with AI algorithms. We will do this in the context of an existing undergraduate subject. Students will be presented with an interface that allows them to interact creatively with an AI, devising challenges for the algorithm to solve and visualising the results, to help them discover the strengths and limitations of the AI. We will evaluate how creative interaction with the AI affects students' understanding of the algorithms, sense of agency, and feeling of wellbeing.


Krista A. Ehinger (MSE), Sadia Nawaz (CIS), Marian Mahat (MGSE)

Contact: Dr Krista A. Ehinger, Coordinating Investigator, at

Finding Refuge: art, emergency and "imagining the unimaginable" in the resilient city

Australia's Black Summer, the Californian fires of 2020 and the ongoing Covid pandemic are forewarnings of a period of accelerating and intensifying disasters driven by climate change and human encroachment on the natural world. Experts in emergency services recognise that as disasters become recurrent, and as communities becomes more culturally complex, conventional top-down command and control methods of disaster communication will need to shift to more horizontal and inclusive approaches. Diverse communities bring their own knowledge, which must form part of addressing disaster as a shared endeavour.

Paul Holman, Director of Emergency Management Ambulance Victoria says that improving community disaster preparedness involves creativity. Communities must "imagine the unimaginable" (Fraser et al 2019) to share responsibility for acting and responding. This project explores how creativity might better prepare urban communities to respond to the climate crisis. Comprising a multidisciplinary team from the humanities, engineering, and urban studies, the project focuses on Refuge (2016-2021) – a six-year program hosted by City of Melbourne's Arts House. Refuge put art at the centre of preparing for climate-related disaster by partnering artists with experts from Australian Red Cross, State Emergency Services (SES), Emergency Management Victoria (EMV), University of Melbourne, and local community organisations.

This project will aggregate and catalogue the many materials Refuge has generated across scores of live events and preparatory and post-event workshops. This archive of images, videos, interviews, surveys, and field notes will demonstrate how creativity:

  • shapes ways of knowing, feeling and relating that engage people as active participants in disaster preparedness
  • brings siloed knowledges together to address complex problems
  • contributes to social wellbeing as a facet of urban resilience.


Nikos Papastergiadis (Arts) Danielle Wyatt (Arts), Jasmin Pfefferkorn (Arts), Sarah Bell (ABP), Brendon Gleeson (ABP)

Partner: Emily Sexton (Artistic Director, Arts House, City of Melbourne)

Contact: Professor Nikos Papastergiadis, Coordinating Investigator at

The Compassionate Performer: Development and pilot of a digital self-compassion resource for the well-being of performance artists

Performance artists are exposed to a range of stressors which may negatively affect well-being. These include regular competition and comparison, job instability, financial insecurity, performance pressure, and exposure to injury. The few studies conducted in these populations point to elevated levels of mental ill-health. More work is needed however to a) better understand psychological factors which may contribute to, or protect against, mental ill-health in performers, and b) develop evidence-informed and scalable interventions for performer's well-being.

Self-compassion – the awareness of suffering in self and a commitment to try to alleviate it - has been associated with positive mental health and well-being outcomes. These have been demonstrated in elite sport, a population whose environmental and psychological stressors overlap considerably with performance artists. Athletes higher in self-compassion have shown higher well-being and more constructive responses to adversity. Importantly, self-compassion is not a static trait but a skill that can be improved, and interventions focused on enhancing self-compassion have been successful in athlete populations.

This project comprises two interrelated studies. Study 1 will collect data from an online survey enabling relationships between self-compassion and well-being domains to be explored in a sample of performance artists from several disciplines. In doing so, Study 1 will identify key targets for the intervention program. Study 2 will develop, implement and pilot test a digital self-guided self-compassion program called 'The Compassionate Performer'. We expect that participation in The Compassionate Performer program will be associated with improved mental health and well-being. Following piloting, the program will be made freely available for the independent use of performance artists around the world, and international research collaborations explored.


Courtney Walton (MDHS), Margaret Osborne (FAM), Simon Rice (MDHS), James Kirby (UQ)

Partner: Tracy Margieson (Head of Program, Arts Wellbeing Collective, Arts Centre Melbourne)

Contact: Dr Courtney Walton, Coordinating Investigator at

A Warm Data Approach to building the Wellbeing Literacy of Creative Artists and Performers

Wellbeing literacy is defined as a capability to comprehend and compose wellbeing language, across contexts, with the intention of using such language to maintain or improve the wellbeing of oneself, others, or the world (Oades, et. al., 2021). Wellbeing literacy is underpinned by a capability model (i.e., what someone is able to be and do), and is based on constructivist (i.e., language shapes reality) and contextualist (i.e., words have different meanings in different contexts) epistemologies. Creative artists and performers are experts in their field of comprehending and composing language through multimodal symbolic systems and representations, and these systems may be alphabetic, pictorial, visual, aural or combinations of these. Yet, the creative and performing arts industries were among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and these economic impacts have had enormous mental health and wellbeing implications both for the broader community and for artists in particular.

This project will investigate how creative artists and performers communicate about and for wellbeing, and the role that creativity plays in building the wellbeing literacy of creative artists and performers. It will examine how language (broadly conceived) can be intentionally used to cultivate and sustain wellbeing over time and across contexts through the representations and insights of creative artists and performers. It will draw on the emergent methodology of 'warm data', which involves a deep sense-making process supporting the identification and examination of information which pertains to the complexity, patterns, and inter-relational processes between and among systems and their regeneration (Bateson, 2020).

This project will explore these questions through a partnership with Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV) in which creative and performing artists and musicians will participate in Warm Data Labs, and explore individuals and groups regarding wellbeing literacy.


Lindsay G. Oades (MGSE), Jane Davidson (FAM), Frederic Kiernan (FAM), Jessica Taylor (MGSE)

Partner: Andy Miller (General Manager, Multicultural Arts Victoria)

Contact: Professor Lindsay Oades, Coordinating Investigator at

2020 Projects

Ongoing projects funded in 2020 include:

The Othello theatre in education project: Fostering creativity and wellbeing in the face of high levels of violence against women

This project includes a collaborative team from education, theatre and performance and feminist and cultural studies. Building on pilot research in criminology, it looks at how theatre and interdisciplinary research can improve the wellbeing of young people in a climate of widespread violence against women.

  • The project will use a research-creation approach to examine how the play ‘Othello on Trial’:
  • deploys theatre-based techniques that acknowledge diversity in the classroom
  • queries assumptions about Shakespeare’s universality and colour-blindness.

The project will include performances informed by the research team’s collective practice and a symposium for invited stakeholders in the Victorian education sector. These events will help assess the project’s potential for inclusion in school-based curricula, and show the valuable contribution theatre can make to young people’s creativity, critical thinking and wellbeing.

Resulting research data and resources will form a digital study to ensure the project’s longevity. This can be used by schools and policymakers in Australia and internationally.


Kathryn Coleman (Melbourne Graduate School of Education), Adrian Howe (Arts), Lauren Rosewarne (Arts), Scott Welsh (Victoria University), Richard Sallis (Melbourne Graduate School of Education), Sarah Truman (Melbourne Graduate School of Education), Sarah Healy (Melbourne Graduate School of Education).

Contact: Dr Kathryn Coleman, Coordinating Investigator at

Embodying recovery and hope: How drama and youth theatre can respond to eco-anxiety and support recovery in disaster affected communities

Recent devastating floods, drought, and bushfires in Australia have had a profound impact on children and young people living in disaster affected communities, where they are dealing with the effects of family stress, displacement, trauma, and loss.

Those outside disaster zones witnessing the crisis can also be susceptible to feelings of vicarious trauma. These factors, coupled with the growing global movement towards action on climate change, have led to an increase in 'eco-anxiety' or 'ecological grief' among children and young people. Many are witnessing the devastating effects of climate change and experiencing feelings of helplessness and despair.

This project examines the role of youth theatre and drama in responding to the multifaceted effects of this crisis.

Research shows that arts-based wellbeing interventions can positively impact young people's ability to:

  • process their experiences following a disaster
  • manage post-traumatic stress
  • build social cohesion and self-confidence.

The arts can also play a valuable role in narrating the community's response to disaster, and in rallying strengths in moving towards recovery. Embodied artforms such as theatre and drama provide a collaborative, agentic experience where people can explore complex issues and emotions, and ideas for the future.

Working with grassroots practitioners and established youth theatre companies, the team will explore how theatre and drama can facilitate a sense of wellbeing and agency for children and young people. Both in direct approaches to post-disaster recovery, and in addressing eco-anxiety and ecological grief experienced on a societal level.


Sarah Woodland (Fine Arts and Music), Helen Cahill (Melbourne Graduate School of Education), Linda Hassall (Griffith University), Simon Rice (Orygen Centre for Youth Mental Health).

Partners: Fraser Corfield (Australian Theatre for Young People), Tiffany Vatcher and Jennifer South (Upstage Independent Theatre School).

Contact: Dr Sarah Woodland, Coordinating Investigator at

Mental Dance

Dance provides a way to experience interconnectedness and reclaim a sense of wellbeing by teaching us to acknowledge rather than avoid difficult emotions and uncomfortable movements. As our world becomes increasingly digitised, we need new practiced forms of expression that can help us navigate the emerging bodily, social and environmental challenges of being “always online”.

This creative project brings together a cognitive neuroscientist, a choreographer and a composer to explore how gesture, music and costume can respond to neuronal activity in the brain made visible by an electroencephalogram (EEG).

The EEG data will be translated into markers for change in frequency and gestural range by the dancer, and a test audience will be invited to experience the outcome: a dance performance and workshop which will challenge our thinking about technology, music, the body and the brain.


Carol Brown (Fine Arts and Music), Marta Garrido (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), Monica Lim (independent artist), Linda Sastradipradja (Fine Arts and Music).

Contact: Professor Carol Brown, Coordinating Investigator at

International students creating comedy to foster wellbeing: 'Are you joking?'

This arts-based research project will explore how collaborating in a performance-related creative endeavour, to create and produce a comedy performance, may foster wellbeing for international students at the University of Melbourne.

This project sits at the junction of language, identity, creativity, the performing arts and education. International student volunteers will explore, experiment and extend their knowledge of language, place and humour to create and produce a comedy performance on the theme of the life of an international student.

The project will offer students the opportunity to:

  • connect with others on a creative level
  • meet and form friendships with others from a variety of faculties and discipline areas
  • learn from and support each other in developing their knowledge, skills and confidence
  • enhance their social circles and counter experiences of loneliness in university life.

Students will apply their knowledge of English to explore informal language use outside of academic settings, with increased scope for playfulness, boundary blurring and ‘trespassing’.

The project seeks to discover how the students’ sense of wellbeing, and their confidence in using their oral and written English language skills, may be impacted by these creative endeavours. It will also interrogate the potential pitfalls and challenges of a project of this kind, which may inform the creation and development of future programs of a similar nature.


Richard Sallis (Melbourne Graduate School of Education), Diane de Saint Leger (Arts), Jayne Lysk (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), Danielle Clayman (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences).

Contact: Dr Richard Sallis, Coordinating Investigator at

Creative spaces for wellbeing: Captain Starlight and the Starlight Express Rooms in Australian Children's Hospitals

Captain Starlight is a creative program that operates in every major children's hospital in Australia. The program is designed to reduce the loneliness, pain and stress often associated with hospitalisation. It does this by engaging users, such as sick children and their parents, in creative activities and play with 'Captain Starlight'. The activity takes place in Starlight Express Rooms – a treatment free zone dedicated to creativity and wellbeing in a hospital environment.

While the program has been successful, the role of creativity in delivering positive wellbeing outcomes to sick children and their parents is not well understood. Indicators suggest a mix of factors, such as the training and skills of Captain Starlight and the design of the Starlight Express Rooms. As such, the program provides a clear view to the intersection of creativity and wellbeing for people facing adversity.

This project will investigate the role of creativity in the work of Captain Starlight. It will deliver creative activities related to the work of Captain Starlight to the homes of users of the program. The activities allow participants to reflect on the impact of the program on their lives. They will also help the research team understand the role of creativity in protecting and scaffolding participants' wellbeing. The project will also provide a theoretical basis to identify which elements of the program could be:

  • used standalone
  • made mobile
  • used in places without Starlight Express Rooms.

These findings will be used to create best practice guidelines for the future training of Captain Starlights. They will also inform the curriculum of the University of Melbourne's online Specialist Certificate of Creativity and Health – which launches in 2020.


Ralph Hampson (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), Clare Newton (Architecture, Building and Planning), Frederic Kiernan (Fine Arts and Music), Sofia Colabella (Architecture, Building and Planning), Claire Treadgold (University of New South Wales), Lawrence Ashford (University of Sydney).

Partners: Felicity McMahon (Starlight Children's Foundation)

Community activated placemaking spaces (CAPS): Designing an intergenerational playground

Community assets such as playgrounds are important sites for community development and wellbeing. They provide opportunities for a range of people and needs, such as:

  • intergenerational participation
  • cultural diversity
  • children with disabilities.

A collaboration between University of Melbourne researchers and the Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House (BANH), we will examine:

  • how intergenerational playgrounds contribute to community wellbeing
  • how playground use differs between school-age children, adults and seniors
  • how playground design can promote diverse and intergenerational user engagement.

The project team will use a variety of data collection strategies, including:

  • design and model-making activities for students at Richmond West Primary School
  • an online survey about playground usage
  • creative submissions of photographs of drawings and models from the public
  • in-person surveys and interviews conducted at BANH.

The outcome of the project will include design solutions to wellbeing questions for people living in high-density social housing communities.


Blair Gardiner (Architecture, Building and Planning), Frederic Kiernan (Fine Arts and Music), Trisnasari Fraser (Fine Arts and Music)

Partners: Lydia Dobbin (Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House)

Contact: Blair Gardiner, Coordinating Investigator:

2019 projects

Ongoing projects funded in 2019 include:

Communities over the airwaves: how the creativity of community language radio promotes wellbeing among new and emerging migrant communities in Australia

Certain new and emerging migrant communities are denied access to literacy and writing skills in their home countries. For this reason, community radio in Australia plays a critical role in supporting their wellbeing, as it is a publicly supported outlet for cultural expression.

This project will gather information about the experiences of community language radio presenters and listeners from migrant communities, focusing on their sense of connection and wellbeing.

By doing this, the creative mechanisms underpinning these social benefits will be more clearly understood. This in turn will generate an enriched understanding of the nature of creativity itself in the context of community language radio.


Krause A et al (2020) The role of community language radio for understanding creativity and wellbeing in migrant communities in Australia. International Journal of Wellbeing 10(5). doi: 10.5502/ijw.v10i5.1495


John Hajek (Arts), Amanda E Krause (Fine Arts and Music), Anya Lloyd-Smith (Arts), Greg Wadley (Melbourne School of Engineering), Amber Hammill (Auckland University of Technology), John Gillies, Manager (3ZZZ), Jo Curtin (Executive Officer, Community Broadcasting Foundation).

Contact: Professor John Hajek, Coordinating Investigator at

Feral pedagogies: Exploring how queer performance builds queer community, resilience and wellbeing

While homophobic and transphobic violence is on the rise internationally, queer performance work endures at a local level – and in the process, it sustains marginalised LGBTQI+ communities.

The project explores:

  • the role that creativity in arts festivals and venues plays within queer sociality
  • the way in which arts festivals contribute to the wellbeing of those with gender and sexually diverse lives.

The project proposes an innovative conceptual approach – 'feral pedagogies' – to harness this knowledge. Defining feral as 'the domesticated gone wild', this project will use 'feral pedagogies' as a methodology to de-domesticate and de-institutionalise queer knowledges and re-wild them at the centre of academic and queer community practice. This will be achieved through creative work itself, in the form of a ‘Feral Queer Camp’. In this environment, queer performance, and its impact on the wellbeing of queer communities, can be considered directly.


Alyson Campbell (Fine Arts and Music), Hannah McCann (Arts), Jennifer Audsley (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), Stephen Farrier (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London), Daniel Santangeli (Program Manager, Midsumma Festival), Brenton Geyer (Senior Communications Officer, Living Positive Victoria), Dianne Toulson (General Manager, Theatre Works).

Contact: Associate Professor Alyson Campbell, Coordinating Investigator at

Fostering youth wellbeing using music

This project aims to develop a new measure for understanding the creative strategies for emotion regulation used by young people in relation to music.

This project will explore the ways secondary school students use music to optimise their emotional wellbeing. It will identify and examine the role of creativity in these regulatory strategies. Findings are likely to identify protective factors for wellbeing and risk factors of distress.

Resources will be developed in collaboration with community and departmental research partners. Integrating expertise from music psychology, music therapy and education, this partnership will create an engaging music program that supports young people to use their creative capabilities to optimise learning and lifelong wellbeing.


Tan-Chyuan Chin (Melbourne Graduate School of Education), Katrina McFerran (Fine Arts and Music), Edwina Ricci (Project Manager – Maroondah Positive Education Network, DET Victoria), Adam Cooper (Team Leader – Youth and Children's Services, Maroondah City Council), Anita Holman (Coordinator – Youth Development, Yarra Ranges Council).

Contact: Dr Tan-Chyuan Chin, Coordinating Investigator at

Creating wellbeing – creativity and imagination in community health practice

Social health and wellbeing affect individual wellbeing. Yet marginalised communities face barriers accessing healthcare services and support. This means they often miss out on services that could benefit their health and wellbeing and prevent chronic disease. Individual health behaviours are also influenced by broader social and cultural factors.

These communities need new ways to access quality healthcare services – that understand and meet their needs.

Health and wellbeing communication, education and behaviour change are effective when they are relevant, meaningful and culturally sensitive. Creative approaches to communication could allow clients and practitioners talk about health in engaging and accessible ways. They could also help people understand and share health beliefs, motivations and capabilities.

This project brings together researchers and community health practitioners from the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne and Your Community Health – a not-for-profit community health service in northern Melbourne.

The project examines the role of creativity within five elements of community health practice:

  • health-related communication (speaking, listening, reading, writing, creating, viewing) in diverse cultural and linguistic communities
  • planning for health-related behaviour change
  • health-related education
  • client engagement and self-efficacy about health and wellbeing
  • practitioner-client relationships.

The project works with people from Your Community Health. All participants are from priority access populations including:

  • people experiencing socio-economic disadvantage
  • people from multicultural backgrounds.

We will explore the role of creativity in health and wellbeing, using focus groups, interviews and creative approaches.

The project combines several research areas:

  • community-based healthcare
  • social health
  • positive psychology
  • anthropology.

Project findings will inform a larger, future project. This will look at the benefits of creative communication in social health practice and promotion. It will focus on Your Community Health, which currently uses some of these creative practices. Ongoing research also supports partnerships between academic and community settings. This in turn supports evidence-based social-health practice and wellbeing.


Lindsay Oades (Melbourne Graduate School of Education), Adrian Hearn (Arts), Jessica Taylor (Melbourne Graduate School of Education), Ju-Lin Lee (Your Community Health).

Contact: Professor Lindsay Oades, Coordinating Investigator at

Through their lenses: Creativity, wellbeing and women's experiences of ageing

This qualitative research examines creativity as a vital aspect of the wellbeing and ageing experiences of 15 – 20  women over 50. The women are participants in a Victorian photography project called 500 Strong created by Australian photographer Ponch Hawkes. The photographs will be part of Flesh after Fifty, an exhibition and series of events promoting positive images of older women.

We will hold interviews and workshops exploring the embodied experiences of the women both as active participants in the photo shoot and as photographed representations. The key questions being addressed include:

  • How do women understand and practice creativity?
  • How does creativity contribute to women’s sense of wellbeing?
  • How is creativity linked to women’s experiences of ageing?

This project aims to counter stereotyped and reductive portrayals of older women that focus on decline and loss. It also aims to contest discourses that address ageing purely as an economic concern. Instead, it conceptualises the experience of ageing as a process where health, creativity and material welfare are interdependent.

The study will contribute to research on creative engagement and wellbeing in later life and supplement public health literature that focuses on ageing as a medical or policy concern. In addition, it hopes to identify women who are not present in this research project. Who might they be and how might they engage with notions of creativity, ageing and wellbeing?

Final report

Moosad L & Vaughan C (2021) Through their lenses: Creativity, wellbeing and women's experiences of ageing. University of Melbourne.

Download report (PDF)


Moosad L & Vaughan C (2020) Care, collaboration and critique: The intersection of creativity and wellbeing in older women. International Journal of Wellbeing 10(5). doi: 10.5502/ijw.v10i5.1485


Cathy Vaughan (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), Martha Hickey (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), Jane Davidson (Fine Arts & Music), Lila Moosad (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences).

Contact: Associate Professor Cathy Vaughan, Coordinating Investigator at

Left, Write, Hook: The efficacy of writing and boxing in assisting survivors of sexual trauma in moving towards post traumatic growth

Left, Write, Hook is a creative arts workshop series combining weekly writing and boxing sessions. It is designed to help women who have experienced sexual abuse and trauma to find a connection to their body, mind and spirit through these weekly sessions. The project pairs two contrasting creative acts – writing and boxing – to explore how:

  • cognitive and emotional functions can be optimised
  • shared identity between women can be strengthened
  • personal growth, social bonds and resilience can be nurtured and enhanced.

We hypothesise that the dual approach of written/verbal and embodied creativity serves to enhance the wellbeing of survivors of sexual abuse and trauma. The first hour of each workshop is dedicated to writing, sharing and listening. The second hour is designed to enable women to reclaim their bodies as sites of power and strength, through the physical impact of non-contact boxing for sport.

The project is the idea of Coordinating Investigator Donna Lyon, who wrote about the power of combining writing and boxing on her blog in 2018:

"Boxing has become a metaphor for my recovery and my life as a survivor. The positive effect that boxing has had on me, in terms of my overall health and wellbeing, has been phenomenal. I have met many other women like me and I have a strong desire to share stories of recovery, empowerment and hope, using writing and the sport of boxing to aid this."

The workshops will be filmed, with the intention of material being used as a proof of concept to attract funding for a larger documentary project, pending the outcomes of the research. Interviews will be conducted to assess the results and impact of the workshop.

Final report

Lyon D et al (2021) Left/Write//Hook: The efficacy of writing and boxing in assisting survivors of childhood sexual abuse in moving towards post-traumatic growth. University of Melbourne.

Download report (PDF)


Lyon D et al (2020) Left / Write // Hook: A mixed method study of a writing and boxing workshop for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and trauma. International Journal of Wellbeing 10(5). doi: 10.5502/ijw.v10i5.1505


Donna Lyon (Fine Arts and Music), Margaret Osborne (Fine Arts and Music; Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), Steve Thomas (Fine Arts and Music), Shannon Owen (Fine Arts and Music), Khandis Blake (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences).

Contact: Donna Lyon, Coordinating Investigator at

This is me: Exploring how shared music expression with peers can support psychological wellbeing in autistic young adults

Social activities in the community that are accessible to a range of people are challenging to find, and often struggle to be genuinely inclusive. Autistic individuals are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion. This is because their ways of engaging with the world are sometimes not well understood by typically developing (non-autistic) people. Reducing isolation and increasing meaningful social networks appear to be protective factors that support wellbeing for all young people, including those on the autism spectrum.

There is a body of research that shows participating in community music making can foster a sense of belonging and connection between group members. But this potential has not been researched in the Australian autistic community. This project will thus evaluate whether social music making can create the conditions for young autistic people to build their social networks.

We understand human social communication other than speech to be fundamentally musical. We also believe that these musical features of communication are inherently creative. The rhythm of our movements and the melody of our voice are vital to convey our meaning to those around us. When there is shared understanding between individuals, there is often a greater sense of belonging and connection. Working from the belief that musical creativity is a natural part of social communication and therefore present in all people, we seek to challenge existing sociocultural frameworks that tend to privilege certain formal or aesthetic criteria in music performance. This bias can result in a failure to recognise creative expression by individuals whose form of communication differs from the norm.

Through a series of music workshops, we’ll challenge beliefs about what creativity is. We’ll explore how creativity can be expanded to reflect greater diversity in the embodied, emotional connections that arise through human expressiveness.


Thompson G et al (2020) Gathering community perspectives  to inform the design of autism friendly music-making workshops for wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing 10(5). doi: 10.5502/ijw.v10i5.1497


Grace Thompson (Fine Arts and Music), Melissa Raine (Arts), Susan Hayward (School of Psychology, Deakin University), Elena Ashley (AMAZE).

Contact: Dr Grace Thompson, Coordinating Investigator at

Healthy people, healthy Country and healthy art careers: Understanding creativity and cultural identities in new Indigenous artistic practices and industries

The links between the social and emotional wellbeing of people and the physical and spiritual wellbeing of Country are widely recognised in Indigenous public and research spaces.

The role of artistic and creative practice in this nexus is often assumed in the Indigenous context, but there is much more to learn about the nature of this role, and especially how the careers of Indigenous artists are intertwined with the health and wellbeing of people and country in remote Indigenous communities.

Three Indigenous artist-researchers from the Mowanjum Art Centre in the west Kimberley undertook a five-day printmaking residency at the University’s Southbank campus. The artworks will be shown at a public art exhibition in 2020. The residency aimed to illuminate the creative priorities, concepts, processes, practices and desired futures of Indigenous artists through the development of a portfolio of artworks. The works will also be documented in a digital workbook.

This project is seeking to understand what these artistic and creative practices reveal about the relationship between the art industry, in the Indigenous context, and the wellbeing of Indigenous people and country. This project will also investigate how this information might be used to help Indigenous artists and their communities to flourish.

Check out the blog, Healthy Art Careers Blog, for more information.


Megan McPherson (Fine Arts and Music), Kathryn Coleman (Melbourne Graduate School of Education), Sally Treloyn (Fine Arts and Music), Ella Doonan (manager, Mowanjum Art and Cultural Centre).

Contact: Dr Megan McPherson, Coordinating Investigator at

Spotlight: Creativity Talks

Head to our blog to listen to our podcast series, browse interviews and articles featuring researchers and creative practitioners, and explore how creativity can help us live happier and healthier lives.

Interested in writing a guest blog post or producing a podcast with us? Contact Dr Frederic Kiernan at

Explore Creativity Talks

A woman wearing yellow boxing gloves and a tank top leaning against boxing ring ropes


Initiative Chair

Professor Jane Davidson

Faculty of Fine Arts and Music

Academic Convenor

Dr Frederic Kiernan

Faculty of Fine Arts and Music

Steering Committee

News and events

  • A man sitting in a room with colourful mural of hearts and clouds. He's playing with a Rubik's cube.

    CAWRI News #6

    9 Jul 2021 – In this issue: Register for online events and talks, new conference call for papers, plus creativity and wellbeing opportunities and resources.

  • A woman at a protest march. She is wearing a face shield and holding a hula hoop

    CAWRI 2021 seed funding round now open

    12 Apr 2021 – Grants up to A$15 000 are available to support new and emerging multidisciplinary projects exploring the relationship between creativity and wellbeing. Applications close COB 14 May 2021.

  • A man sitting in a room with colourful mural of hearts and clouds. He's playing with a Rubik's cube.

    CAWRI News #5

    4 Mar 2021 – In this issue: Creative Ageing Symposium available to view, special issue of the International Journal of Wellbeing on ‘Creativity and Wellbeing’, funding opportunity with VicHealth, plus publishing opportunities.

  • Special issue of the International Journal of Wellbeing

    27 Jan 2021 – Explore the issue including articles on Autism friendly music workshops, and boxing and creative writing as tools to heal from childhood sexual assault. Edited by CAWRI researchers.

  • A woman wearing yellow boxing gloves leaning against a blue boxing ring

    Creativity Talks: Explore our new blog

    27 Jan 2021 – Listen to our new podcast series, and read interviews and articles exploring how creativity can help us live happier and healthier lives.

  • A man sitting in a room with colourful mural of hearts and clouds. He's playing with a Rubik's cube.

    CAWRI News #4

    27 Nov 2020 – In this issue: discover our new blog and podcast Creativity Talks, creativity and wellbeing PhD top-up grants awarded, funding opportunity with Wodonga Gallery, and call for papers: Art and the public sphere.

  • Two women standing facing a colourful street mural

    Creativity and wellbeing PhD top-up grants awarded

    17 Aug 2020 - Successful research projects include how technology supports wellbeing and ageing, the social use of cemeteries, and how circus programs can help children with developmental impairments.

  • Close up of green cactus leaves and yellow cactus flowers

    Creativity the Arts and COVID-19: Thriving in Unexpected Situations (CACTUS)

    17 Jun 2020 – Please note, the CACTUS survey has now closed.

  • A man sitting in a room with colourful mural of hearts and clouds. He's playing with a Rubik's cube.

    CAWRI News #3

    17 Jun 2020 – In this issue: From the Chair, survey on creativity, the arts, and COVID-19, music across the balconies, round 2 seed projects announced, Musicovid, publishing opportunities.

  • Two women standing facing a colourful street mural

    Creativity and wellbeing PhD top-up grants

    10 Jun 2020 – CAWRI will fund a limited number of small grants (up to $1000 each) for PhD students working in our theme area. Applications close Friday 10 July, 5pm.

  • A woman from mixit plays a violin against a background of skyscrapers

    Music across the balconies

    11 May 2020 – The viral spread of music and dance across the internet represents a more hopeful contagion as we adapt to physical isolation.

  • A row of all trees on fire

    Creativity and Bushfire Recovery

    23 Jan 2020 – A list of creative resources that may be useful to bushfire-affected individuals and communities over the longer term.


CAWRI 2021 seed funding

Seed funding grants up to A$15 000 are available to support multidisciplinary projects exploring the relationship between creativity and wellbeing. They are designed to build capacity and support new and emerging research collaborations.

The 2021 seed funding round has now closed.

Creativity and wellbeing PhD top-up grants

Applications for the 2020 PhD top up grants are now closed.

More information

If you’re outside the University and would like to start or get involved with a project, contact Research Fellow Dr Frederic Kiernan on +61 3 9035 4597 or email


Whether you’re a researcher, external organisation or member of the public, you can engage with the initiative in a number of ways:

We would love to hear from you! For more information about the Creativity and Wellbeing Hallmark Research Initiative, contact Research Fellow Dr Frederic Kiernan on +61 3 9035 4597 or email

If you have questions or comments in relation to the Hallmark Research Initiatives program, email

Banner image: Unsplash

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