Renegotiating Community Life: Arts, agency, inclusion and wellbeing

Main Article Content

Martin Mulligan
Christopher Scanlon
Nicky Welch


AAs part of a broader emphasis on addressing the ‘social determinants’ of health and wellbeing, health promotion agencies in Australia and elsewhere have increasingly turned to arts participation as a strategy for reducing social isolation. However, research on the relationships between arts participation and its outcomes in terms of individual and community wellbeing has been undermined by conceptual and methodological weaknesses in the studies conducted hitherto. This paper presents some of the findings emerging from a broadly conceived, four-year, multi-method study conducted across four diverse local communities in Victoria, Australia. In particular it focuses on insights gained from the use of photonarrative techniques to explore the lived experiences of people whose involvement in local communities is seen as being problematic. This is complemented by some surprising outcomes of a survey of people who participated in a range of community celebrations and events. The paper shifts the focus from specific outcomes of arts-based interventions in community life to an understanding of how arts participation can help people negotiate new forms of engagement in complex and changing local communities. It argues for a more nuanced understanding of contemporary community life in the context of globalization and a deeper understanding of the relationships between inclusion and exclusion.

Article Details

Research articles (Refereed)
Author Biographies

Martin Mulligan, Globalism Institute, RMIT University, Melbourne

Dr Martin Mulligan is Deputy Director of the Globalism Research Centre at RMIT University in Melbourne where he specialises in the changing nature of community in the contemporary world. He was the project manager for a three-year study, conducted for VicHealth, on ways in which community arts can strengthen community wellbeing and he is currently research leader on a study for the Australia Council for the Arts on ways in which community arts can strengthen local government. He is also conducting research on the rebuilding of community in the wake of the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. His publications include 'Ecological Pioneers: A Social History of Australian Ecological Thought and Action' (with Stuart Hill, Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Christopher Scanlon, La Trobe University

Dr Christopher Scanlon is a writer and commentator whose work is regularly published in The Age, The Canberra Times, The Courier-Mail. He has also written for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Business Spectator, Crikey, The Monthly, RealTime, Overland and Arena Magazine. From 1999–2007 Christopher co-edited Arena Magazine (, the Australian magazine of Left political, social and cultural commentary and moved to online editor in 2008. Prior to joining the Media Studies program at La Trobe, he worked at RMIT University's Globalism Institute where he worked on an ARC linkage project examining the links between participation in community and health and wellbeing. In 2004, Christopher graduated from Monash University with a PhD in politics. His thesis presented a critical analysis of the way intellectuals and experts intervene in the reconstitution of social life, which focused on Third Way politics in the UK, the US and Australia.

Nicky Welch, Deakin University

Dr Nicky Welch is a sociologist with a background in public health. Her current research focuses on women’s experiences of maintaining a healthy weight. She has a long-standing interests in qualitative methodology and in health inequalities amongst rural Australians. She strives to carry out health research with implications for policy. Prior to taking up her current Post Doctoral position at Deakin University, Nicky also worked at RMIT University's Globalism Institute.