Kim McConville – International Arts and Health Conference Winner

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Kim McConville from Beyond Empathy recently won two major gongs at the International Arts and Health Conference held in Canberra. She won the 2011 National Leadership in Arts and Health, Award for Excellence and Beyond Empathy scooped the Health Promotion with Art, Award for Excellence.

Why did you start Beyond Empathy?

I started Beyond Empathy in 2004 with the financial backing of our current chair, business and social change leader, Anna Buduls. Anna had been my mentor for several years and continues to be a close friend and driving force behind the organisation. At the time, I was working with another community arts and cultural development organisation Big hART. The Artistic Director of Big hART always said art was a wonderful tool for building empathy. Indeed it is – for the audience or the viewer who seeks to understand the circumstances of others – art is a great way to walk in someone else’s shoes.

But I always wondered how understanding actually changes the opportunities or options for those sharing the story. I knew empathy was part of the deal, but what intrigued me was how we move into action and truly enable change for the creator – what is required to move from compassion to translation – how do we go beyond empathy and into action?

I knew this required tenacity, lateral thinking, and a capacity and willingness to build skills. This knowledge, combined with a commitment to the arts as an enabler for change, and Beyond Empathy was born.

So along with my friend, artist/film maker and long term colleague Phillip Crawford and Deni Scot Davis, Anna invested in the crazy idea.

Remind us about your recent campaign ‘Just One Less’?

Just one Less is a humble yet robust and sometimes confronting community conversation that seeks to raise awareness about alcohol and its place in our community. BE is  talking about risk taking behaviours in young people, why some young people fare better than others and what inspires parents and the broader community to become positive role models. Just one Less is a community art and cultural development project that started about 12 months ago as a germ of a passionate idea and aimed to start a community conversation around alcohol.

You might remember it culminated in a live public event with the MCA’s Digital Odyssey tour and the internationally renowned digital artist Craig Walsh on July 1, 2 and 3 this year.

The content gathered over the year – more than 300 interviews in the mobile video booth (a horse float), short films made by six high schools and community photo portraits – were projected at an unusual outdoor site in Armidale over the three nights in July. The work was integrated into Walsh’s modus operandi: projecting large images of faces onto community surfaces such as nature and architecture. Drawing inspiration from the film content, Walsh generated works of art that reflected back to the community something of itself, providing a powerful meditation on the varied experiences that people share around the topic of alcohol.

Highlights of 2011?

There were many highlights in 2011 and the very public awards are wonderful, but they are not the reason we get out of bed in the morning. Over the last 12 months, we have used arts led processes to connect people who are disenfranchised with their community and local support workers and to broker relationships between them. Creating common ground amongst often disparate groups through art enables communication and conversation to take place in new ways and leads to changing perceptions of the ‘other’. For change to take place, this shift in perceptions needs to take place on all sides.

In some cases, people have been helped to make connections with participants, artists, and other workers from beyond their local surrounds, broadening everyone’s experiences, insights and possibilities. This is what is important and when this works well, it’s inspiring and gives true meaning to who we are.

The successes of our young people is always a highlight – young people in the Illawarra winning an award at the Margaret River Short Film Festival for their short film 2506, local hip hop group Koorified winning several categories at the Don’t Waste the Popcorn 2011 (New England Short Film Festival) in Glen Innes in November, or one of our young people winning a scholarship to study honours in Photo Journalism at Griffith University in Brisbane. They continue to inspire and humble us with their courage, resilience and unbelievable creativity.

Does The Community Mutual assist you?

The Community Mutual is an important long term and generous supporter of our Just One Less project here in Armidale. They also assist us with other in kind contribution support such as rooms for local meetings, personalise service and support for our financial management and any other administrative support to make it easy for us to operate as a small business. Kevin Dupe is a passionate champion and advocate for the power of the arts as an enabler for change.

How can others contribute?

Well, as one of 720,000 not for profits in Australia, there is a lot of competition – and we are all vying for the scarce financial support. Change takes time, and projects can’t expect to reap results in a 12 month or even a two year timeframe. If you truly want to make a difference, you have to commit for the long haul. So of course, long term supporters, who donate money no matter how small the generous gift is, enable projects like Just One Less to be sustained in our community over the long term.

But money is only one small part of the story.People can contribute by donating in kind support as well, by backing the Just One Less initiative, by speaking up and being part of the robust and important conversation. After all, change happens one on one, one by one and then in partnership.

For more information, telephone 6772 0101.

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