Promoting community and belonging through art

Olivia Killeen, Communication and Social Policy Officer
Olivia Killeen Communication and Social Policy Officer
29 September 2022
Art therapist Jess in the art studio of our Queens Road rooming house

An exciting feature of the Rooming House Plus Program (RHPP), Sacred Heart Mission’s community rooming house, is the onsite art studio.

“I’ve always had a passion for community-based work, and it’s great to be able to work in a sector where people have the time and space to settle into a proper rooming situation and create a bit of a community,” says Jess, the Arts Therapist and Social Inclusion Worker who manages the art studio.

“The studio is such an asset to the space. I love being based here so it can become a bit of a drop in and quiet space, but also an active and dynamic space where people can flex their creative muscles.”

A therapeutic way for clients to express themselves

The studio was closed for almost two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and Jess is trying to create a warm and welcoming environment for people to engage with as we return to normal.

“I love using any arts and creative processes to help people regulate and work on trauma-based support stuff, which can be anything from exploring identity and sense of self or supporting people when they’re having mental health challenges or looking at interpersonal connections. It gives people a therapeutic way to express themselves without having to talk about their feelings.”

Jess operates an open-studio model, where lots of artwork and material is on display in order to encourage people engage through curiosity. She is currently developing structured groups and times within the studio, but because it operates within residents’ home environment it is important to be flexible, like including a night session. “It’s a very fluid space here – people are living their own lives.” They held their first drumming circle recently, which was very successful.

“I just keep reinforcing that this is everyone’s space, and everyone is welcome and make it what you want,” says Jess.

Prior to Covid, art exhibitions were held in public venues for RHPP residents to show and sell their work to the public, and Jess is keen to get this up and running again and provide opportunities for residents to showcase their work with support from local council.

“The residents get really excited, all dressed up and invite friends and families, and Sacred Heart Mission staff,” says Program Coordinator Lisa Grant. “It’s really special.”

Colourful mural at the entrance of our Queens Road rooming house
Street art work at the front entrance of our rooming house on Queens Road

A building filled with history

The RHPP building was designed by well-known Melbourne architect Robin Boyd and first opened as a hotel in 1962, and actually housed the Rolling Stones on their first Australian tour in 1965. It has been re-adapted several times and is heritage listed, the curved roof in particular is highly unusual.

RHPP recently received funding from the City of Port Phillip and Community Housing Limited, who manage the building, to install a new mural that reflects the history of the building and improve the atmosphere of the space. Melbourne artist Resio completed the mural in June 2022. “It is a beautiful and vibrant gift for the residents to enliven the space,” says Jess.