Contemporary aboriginal art project a success for Toowoomba jobseekers

Thursday 25 February 2016
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Participants in a successful Work for the Dole Art activity in Toowoomba have used their artistic skills to produce a calendar featuring contemporary Indigenous art. The host, Wilsonton Heights Community Centre set up the activity to develop the skills of local Aboriginal jobseekers with the aim of improving their employment prospects.

James McKay, Manager of Wilsonton Heights Community Centre, was concerned about the high unemployment rate in Toowoomba and in response, worked with local Work for the Dole coordinator Mission Providence and jobactive provider NEATO Employment Services, to develop the Boongary Wine Drive Artists activity.

The activity is designed to engage long-term unemployed Aboriginal people in meaningful work to build their confidence and enhance their self-esteem. After receiving approval from local Aboriginal Elders, participants met weekly to create artworks that depict their heritage and promote pride in their culture.

As part of the activity, participants created a number of paintings which were printed in a 2016 calendar and distributed to the local community in Toowoomba. In creating the calendar, the participants worked collaboratively and took leading roles throughout the production process. They also had the opportunity to receive teaching and mentoring from other Australian artists as well as artists from the gallery in Toowoomba.

Two jobseekers, who were volunteering at the community centre, were employed by NEATO to work as part-time supervisors for the 26-week activity, providing support and guidance to other participants. Since the activity concluded in early 2016, one of the supervisors has successfully maintained ongoing work at the Community Centre.

Reflecting on the activity, James said that all participants were enthusiastic about learning new skills and improving their employment prospects. He also felt that the Community Centre provided a supportive and friendly environment for the participants to re-engage with the workforce and establish a positive work ethic.

‘Work for the Dole is one of the best things we’ve done in the local area and I can see that it’s had a really big impact on the people here,’ said James McKay.

This impact can be seen in David Lingwoodock, one of the activity participants. David did not have formal artistic training or experience but enjoyed creating artwork. As part of the activity, he produced a series of four paintings linked to his culture and family heritage which were reproduced for the calendar.

David is a strong supporter of cultural Work for the Dole activities and believed it increased his self-esteem and motivation to find meaningful employment. He stated that prior to the activity he would not have had the confidence needed to attend an interview.

'This has given me more confidence in myself, and brought talents out that I did not know I had', said David Lingwoodock.

Since the conclusion of the activity, David has successfully gained employment and intends to continue painting and generate an income from selling his artwork.

The Boongary Wine Drive Artists activity has made a direct impact on local Aboriginal unemployment and the community has embraced it as a positive step in assisting jobseekers in Toowoomba.

Aboriginal artwork created by the Work for the Dole participants
Image: Aboriginal artwork created by the Work for the Dole participants
Aboriginal artwork created by the Work for the Dole participants
Image: David Lingwoodock creating his artworks for the 2016 calendar