The Nurses and Midwives’ Art Exchange

Collaborators: Kelly Hussey-Smith, Grace McQuilten, Fleur Summers, Mark Edgoose. Funding was received from ACN, CAST, Eastern Health (Peter Mellow), and Design and Creative Practice Enabling Capability Platform (RMIT University).

This collaborative project named the Nurses and Midwives art exchange was an attempt to hear and amplify the collective voices of these professionals, whose views and experiences are often missed in the public sphere. Nurses and midwives were invited to submit a creative response reflecting on their experiences of working during the pandemic. This invitation was distributed through social media channels and the Australian College of Nursing.

Staff, and students from the RMIT School of Art enrolled in a unique semester-long workshop were invited to develop artworks in response to nurses’ submissions. The semester’s teaching was made up of art making, reflection, and “lectures” from the team, along with a guest lecture from Jess Dillard-Wright an American collaborator, and a visit to the Science museum to have a conversation with artist and consumer survivor Indigo Daya. Our team received a 2022 College of Design and Social Context (DSC) Learning and Teaching Award for a socially engaged curriculum for fine art undergraduate students. An exhibition was produced as a part of the Archive of Feelings exhibition for the Big Anxiety Festival at RMIT Design Hub.

A number of publications are being produced with data from semi-structured interviews with nurses and midwife artists, film footage, and texts provided by them. Our work highlights the importance of creative practice for nurses and midwives as a mechanism for processing trauma. We suggest a range of strategies incorporating both structural and system change in addition to incorporating creative practice/professional development to effectively support the nursing and midwifery workforce.