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Kids getting creative with string in a circle on the floor

Children take part in Housewarming in the Sydney Opera House's Centre for Creativity.

Finding wellbeing through creativity

Opera House Creative Learning Manager, and former visual arts teacher, Alana Ambados, offers her tips for bringing fresh creativity and wellbeing perspectives into lesson planning and the classroom.

Alana Ambados
Creative Learning Manager

Wellbeing and creativity. Two seemingly elusive words that are akin to reaching a state of enlightenment. Virtually impossible you say? Maybe not…

To me, wellbeing and creativity are about connection, community and practice. The science tells us that wellbeing is beyond a state of happiness – it’s about resilience, finding meaning and fulfilment, and building relationships through social connections. Creativity, and the Arts do the same. The Arts have shown incredible resilience in a time of immense change and uncertainty. They’ve helped bring us back to ourselves, and each other, to feel renewed and hopeful. That’s the essence of creativity, pulling together different ideas to refresh perspectives and delight in meaningful storytelling. 

So, how can you combine wellbeing and creativity in your classroom?

Share knowledge and stories through deep, reciprocal and respectful listening

Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann reflects on Dadirri a practice of deep listening from the Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri languages of the Aboriginal peoples of the Daly River region in the Northern Territory, Australia, that also translates to ‘deep water sounds’ or ‘sounds of the deep’. Please read her powerful words about this beautiful, grounding cultural practice. 

What ways can we listen deeply to ourselves, our bodies and spirit, to each other? Reflect for a moment and think about what this means to you. Actually do it. For me, it’s texting a friend the ocean-wave-emoji followed by a question mark, the response an immediate YES. We have a regular practice of jumping in the ocean together, getting a coffee and talking about our favourite books or what we’ve been going through lately. It’s a practice I am so grateful for, slowing down to listen deeply to my body and sharing this with someone in the beautiful place we live. 

In the classroom: make a playlist of everyone’s favourite songs to listen to while you work or invite community members into your classroom for tea to share stories and culture. This reminds us to build empathy and find connection.

Creative Learning Manager at the Sydney Opera House, Alana Ambados. Image: Cassandra Hannagan

Engage the senses using Bunnings’ free colour swatches

This has a purpose, I promise. I’ve not gone mad. Teaching colour theory to students, I would read the odd names we give to paint colours, and without showing students the colour, ask them to imagine what this colour might look like. As they paint their version of ‘Pharoah’s Gem’, ‘Swamp Fox’ and ‘Cosmic Aura’ (which, hilariously, is a type of brown...), a world of different colour emerges. Absolutely try this, it will break up the monotony of painting a colour wheel to the sound of gasps and giggles as everyone describes and explains their new colour.

In the classroom: Staying on the tangent that is my Bunnings-colour-swatch-brain, read the paint colour names and use them as the inspiration for creative writing. Or match the colour to objects in the room and use them for character development and improvisation exercises! The possibilities will be endless as you actively mix colour and art forms to find new connections. 

Collaborate, connect and learn in new ways with the Arts

Late last year, the Opera House collaborated with the Creative Arts team at the NSW Department of Education, alongside Studio A, Sydney Theatre Company and Musica Viva, to produce a series of videos and resources to support teachers and students in their return to the classroom after many months of remote learning. Resources like these are a great way to renew your connection to your students, other teachers and the wider industry and find new ways of learning and working together. 

In the classroom: Reconnect with your colleagues and professional networks through conferences or groups on social media – there are so many organisations and peers ready and willing to support you. Consider ways of incorporating art and cultural sites and organisations into your teaching and learning too, from our Opera House teacher resources to Bangarra’s Knowledge Ground.

At the end of the day…

I hope sharing my understanding of wellbeing and creativity in the Arts has sparked a thought or practice that resonates with you. 

Ultimately - be kind to yourself. Practice self-compassion. Get amongst nature (or better yet, back to the theatre!). Spend time with colleagues and friends in a meaningful and creative way to find flow, renewed energy, and inspiration. 

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