If ever there was an arts program significantly influencing and changing the lives of creative teenagers across the ACT – it is the Messengers Program of the Tuggeranong Community Arts Association.
For over 18 years this life-affirming program, first funded through a suicide prevention initiative, has provided young people from the age of 12 years a creative respite from the pressures of navigating adolescence.
The program continues to adapt to the fast-paced world that can be a difficult and painful place for young people who are experiencing first signs of depression and anxiety or even self-harming and disengaging from family and friends.
The program employs professional artists and support workers to facilitate group programs that encourage participants to explore their identity, build resilience and social connections, improve mental health, face challenges and reach their potential.
Countless artists, theatre-makers, musicians and filmmakers have either worked in the program or learned their creative skills by participating in the program. “Today, we have tutors in the program who carry a wealth of mental health recovery knowledge, as well as professional arts practitioner skills; however, most important is the firm belief that art can heal trauma and is a strong tool to explore, understand and overcome mental health problems,” says current Program Manager Penny Stott.
One of the program’s most influential managers was Dr Garry Fry, who was instrumental in the program’s transition from a small art program in the Valley to a recognised early intervention program. Garry’s vision was to build creative skills in young people enabling them to explore and tell their stories, whilst providing them with professional psychological support and intervention.
“Early adolescence equals vulnerability,” Dr Fry says, “and the young people that came to us who were challenged by life, were given the task to show their challenges and confront them through drama, writing, music and visual arts – and they did. The work they created sent out their message, and with the experience of having personal control of their situation, their resilience grew.”
Current CEO of the Tuggeranong Arts Centre, Rauny Worm, can only confirm that without Dr Fry’s ambitious work and the influence of countless artists such as Dianna Nixon, Hanna Cormick Mariana Del Castillo, Alex Asch, Harriet Schwarzrock, Tony Steele, Robin Davidson, Irfan Master and many others, this program would never have reached such maturity and amazing outcomes for young people and their families.
“For all families dealing with the more serious challenges of teenage depression and instability, it is evidently a relief to see your offspring feel good about themselves. The positive ripple effect goes right through the entire family and can bring back some of the connections we are afraid of losing,” she says.
Sometimes the works created in classes can be dark and revealing. Encouraging a person to explore their fears and frustrations in a safe, non-judgemental environment is part of the program’s philosophy.
Often the participants find a common language allowing them to accept and better understand each other. Sometimes long-lasting friendships are seeded. Sometimes amazing creative abilities are discovered and nurtured right through to a new vocational pathway – or simply a brighter future.
A truly rewarding event is the end-of-year exhibition and showcase in the Arts Centre. Families and friends share the achievements and personal steps taken by their young people.
Join us this year for the 18th Birthday Exhibition: Always Hope, at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre on Thursday, 15 November at 6 pm. The exhibition will be officially opened by Rachel Stephen-Smith, MLA, with special guests and program alumni attending.