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Keeping Afloat after the Floods: Engaged Evaluation of a School-Based Arts Project to Promote Recovery

Wendy Madsen, Madonna Chesham and Shelley Pisani

Abstract: Arts-based interventions are well established in a variety of contexts, including disaster recovery. However, only few have been evaluated. This chapter outlines the impact of a digital stories project run by a not-for-profit professional arts production company in primary schools six months after a major flood event. It provides perspectives from teachers and other school staff as well as parents of the students who participated. The chapter highlights how the project contributed to the healing and recovery of students by helping them make sense of the flood events. Engaged evaluation contributes to community resilience through developing a community of practice for the purposes of evaluation and developing an evidence base for arts interventions, sharing resources and building local capacity.

Madsen, Wendy, Lynette Costigan, and Sarah McNicol, eds. Community Resilience, Universities and Engaged Research for Today’s World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. doi: 10.1057/9781137481054.0009.


Natural disasters not only cause physical damage, they also cause significant emotional damage within a community. Finding ways to facilitate expression of those emotions to assist in healing on a community scale is one of the aims of recovery. This chapter outlines an evaluation of a school-based arts project that focused on providing an avenue for primary school children to express emotions associated with extreme weather events in the Bundaberg region. After reviewing the literature on using arts as therapy and in recovery programs, we explore three themes that emerged from our analysis: using art to make meaning as an individual; using art in the context of a school after a disaster; and using art to make meaning as a school community. We argue that this evaluation supports the emerging evidence regarding the value of school-based arts programs as an important recovery activity for children and can contribute to building community resilience.


Creative Regions is a not-for-profit organisation that works in partnership with government, industry, companies and other not-for-profit agencies in making arts experiences that are relevant to regional communities (Ainsworth & Pisani, 2014). In partnership with Queensland State Government and Bundaberg Regional Council, Creative Regions commenced arts led recovery projects in the Bundaberg region following the 2010 and 2011 floods. Afloat was a digital animation and ephemeral public art project established to engage communities in sharing their stories regarding the flood events (Pisani, 2014). The project came to a sudden halt in January 2013 when the Bundaberg region experienced catastrophic floods and tornadoes threatening residents’ lives and safety, causing widespread loss of homes, businesses, industry and infrastructure on an unprecedented scale in the region. With the support of the Queensland Government Creative Recovery - Building Resilience program, Creative Regions extended the Afloat project to work with local schools in the Bundaberg region directly affected by the floods and tornadoes (Pisani, 2014).

Creative Regions adopted a collaborative approach to work with school communities regarding their different experiences and recovery needs. This resulted in tailored workshop delivery in each school (Pisani, 2014). The Creative Regions team utilised their experience and skills in arts-led recovery work and worked in partnership with the school guidance counsellors and UnitingCare’s Community recovery counsellor to provide support to children and families throughout the process and to ensure the workshop delivery was appropriate for children who had experienced trauma (Pisani, 2014). An engaged research process was undertaken with CQUniversity to evaluate the project.

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