Creativity and connection with arts-based service learning

Since 2009, more than 1000 students, Elders, and community members have participated in an innovative initiative in the remote Barkly Region of the Northern Territory. Led by researchers at Griffith University, the arts-based service learning (ABSL) program involved arts students collaborating with Warumungu and Warlpiri artists and Elders on community-led projects in the performing arts and education. 

Emphasising the importance of service learning for social change, Griffith University students worked alongside artists at Barkly Regional Arts and Winanjjikari Music Centre. Through the Creative Barkly program, students and artists collaborated on a range of projects, including recording and writing albums, documenting cultural activities, staging festival performances, and building community arts infrastructure. These projects focused on flexibility and responsiveness to community needs to support mutually beneficial learning partnerships. 

This ABSL program expanded to a nationally-funded collaborative project that incorporated intercultural collaborations with partner universities, First Nations communities and non-government organisations, and prepared students for working in diverse contexts.

It has seeded further nationally-funded research and the inclusion of this remote creative arts sector within national policy, regional economic growth strategies, and the Barkly Regional Deal. The ABSL project also informed the development of models for embedding meaningful, collaborative, and respectful First Nations’ perspectives in higher education arts curricula both in Australia and internationally. 

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