Why would people look at my art?' The impact of an arts programme on female Aboriginal students' understanding of culture and practice

Year: 2017

Author: Morris, Julia, Lummis, Geoffrey, Hayward, Colleen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The ninth Closing the Gap report was delivered in Parliament in February 2017. This report showed mixed results in terms of Australia's attainment of key targets. For example, Indigenous school attendance is still significantly lower than non-Indigenous students; however, mentoring and other programmes have made progress to halving the gap in year 12 or equivalent attainment (Australian Government, 2017). These results reflect the Western Australian context, and there are many programmes being established to support Indigenous educational outcomes. This paper reports on one arts programme being piloted at a metropolitan secondary school with growing Indigenous enrolments. The programme aimed to provide support for female Aboriginal students at the school and to address inequity, as the school has a Clontarf Academy that supports male students. The female students showed an interest in visual arts, which was used as a vehicle to promote learning about Aboriginality. The students wanted an opportunity to learn more about their culture. This was promoted in the programme as Indigenous cultures require preservation due to elimination of Indigenous knowledges in education policies globally (Jacob, Cheng, & Porter, 2015). The programme sought to make students aware of their behaviour and personal development, and the school also looked for any impact on attendance as a result of having a programme based on cultural awareness and knowledges. A long-term vision for the programme was to improve retention to year 12 through sustained engagement with the arts.

In the programme we aimed to work at Nakata's (2007) Cultural Interface, where diverse spaces intersect in time and where there are ongoing changes within individuals as they make meaning about the world and their identities. The inaugural year of the programme is presented as a case study, particularly as it culminated in a local public exhibition. The inclusion of the exhibition is a unique aspect of the programme, as it presented an opportunity to practice life skills such as working collaboratively towards a shared goal, problem solving, and working with industry. The findings of the programme have led to a formal Academy being established for the female students and to an annual exhibition at the local gallery, and strategies from this programme could support educators to close the gap in their own context.