In Conversation with … Jim Rimmer
VicHealth Mental Wellbeing and Arts senior project officer
As today’s younger generation grapples with an era of unprecedented change, we need to rethink our preoccupation with school subjects as vocationally linked and turn our attention towards “the 4Cs of 21st century learning – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity”.
That’s according to Jim Rimmer, the Mental Wellbeing and Arts senior project officer for the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth).
He said such a confluence of factors – economic, technological, social, and environmental transformation – was “unchartered territory”.
“Many young people will navigate these changes successfully but, for a growing group, these challenges are being acutely felt,” he said.
“Limited opportunities to succeed in education and employment, limited literacy, lack of stability in family and among friends, and absence of positive identity and self-esteem are being experienced by young people now. The impact on their mental and physical wellbeing is devastating.”
Studies have shown that the old adage of Australia being ‘The Lucky Country’ no longer rings true for many young people.
“One in eight are lonely, one in four report limited access to social support when needed and, as a result of these factors and others, over 75% of all serious mental health problems start before 25 years of age.” Jim said.
In 2015 VicHealth commissioned the CSIRO to provide a clearer understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing Victoria’s youth.
Their report, ‘Bright Futures: Megatrends Impacting the Mental Wellbeing of Young Victorians over the Coming 20 Years’, identified resilience as an important asset for success not just locally but nationally, and globally.
As a result, Jim said, VicHealth had adopted an ecological view of resilience assets where communities and organisations, family, friends and key influencers all played an important role, in addition to individuals.
“Building resilient communities fosters good health, prevents illness and benefits everyone,” he said.
Creativity, he said, was the key to navigating this future of rapid social change and finding purpose and meaning.
“If we think of creativity as conceiving original, useful ideas that overcome challenges and take advantage of opportunities, then it is core not just to work but every aspect of our lives,” Jim said.
“The arts help us to familiarise ourselves with the intricacies of the world, to experience the perspectives of others, and to critique our dreams, aspirations and fears.”
Given this, our education system must stop marginalising the arts as simply an extra-curricular activity.
“It was mentioned in a recent Americans for the Arts blog post that the ‘arts shape the mind for creative inquiry, build intellectual muscle for asking what-if and if-then questions, and develop outside-the-box thinking. Simply put, education in the arts builds creativity’,” Jim said.
“Almost without fail students and professionals with a level of arts training or engagement do better than those without.”
With social media such a large part of the lives of young people in particular, Jim said it occupied a “tricky space in today’s cultural landscape”, with impacts far beyond youth demographics.
“Art is social and now the internet is too,” he said. “Rather than being homogenous, each platform has attributes that can be harnessed.
“Some platforms act as vital tools for connecting artists directly with their audiences and markets, while others make it incredibly difficult for creators to maintain their rights and ability to earn a living.
“And there are serious questions emerging about the attention economy, privileging the sensational over the nuanced, privacy and data footprints.
“Given the ubiquity of social media, I’m also surprised more artists aren’t engaging with social media as a platform for artmaking rather than using it just as a distribution channel.”
Jim himself has a history of more than 20 years in the arts field and said he had been interested in any form of cultural activity he came across from a very early age – music, theatre, dance, visual arts and writing.
“I’ve since been involved in significant projects spanning all these fields and more,” he said.
“The projects that have meant the most to me are those that have introduced new and unexpected experiences to people that might otherwise not have been afforded similar opportunities.
“Often this isn’t actually about the art itself but how it’s delivered, who’s being invited, how the experience is being shared with others.”
He said he likes to push himself into new territory, do things that are less ordinary, and encourage others to do the same.
- Jim Rimmer is giving a plenary presentation Creative to the Core at the 9th Annual International Arts and Health Conference – The Art of Good Health and Wellbeing – from October 30 to November 1 at the Art Gallery of NSW. www.artsandhealth.org.au #artshealth17
– Alison Houston, writedirection gc