Painting a new picture

Veteran attendee Michael presented his artwork to Julia Gillard. 392094 Picture: EMMA XERRI

By Emma Xerri

The cream panelled arts shed tucked away in the Old Cheese Factory has become an artistic haven for locals who have found their creative outlet through Painting with Parkinson’s.

Taking over the Hayshed Arts Space every Wednesday since 2006, attendees have found the perfect way to spend a Wednesday morning – peacefully working on a new piece of art with a warm cup of tea and some cake in hand – and are encouraging more people living with neurological disorders to come along.

“People with Parkinson’s don’t think they can paint,” long-time volunteer Christine said.

“But most of the people become quite good and get really creative. Because it’s not about the painting, it’s about the group and it’s about spending a couple of hours with people who are going through what they’re going through.”

Starting the group in response to her own Parkinson’s diagnosis was founder Anne Atkin OAM, whose artwork continues to inspire the weekly sessions, even now in the final stages of her diagnosis.

“Anne is the most inspirational person I’ve ever met,” added Christine, who was delighted to gush about Anne’s achievements and tremendous impact.

“Even though I don’t have Parkinson’s, she has always been a fabulous example of resilience.”

Also inspired by Anne’s work is devout attendee Michael, who came across Anne and Painting with Parkinson’s in 2008 on the search for something to do.

Now, more than a decade on, Michael has just received his 15 year service award for his longstanding contributions to the group, along with Christine who was recognised for 15 years as a volunteer.

Lovingly referred to as an “instigator” by those in the painting group, Michael’s passion has been fostered by the weekly sessions.

With the space to nurture his artistic tendencies, in an environment full of “friendly faces,” Michael even had the honour of presenting one of his paintings to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

But while Michael has been painting all his life, when asked if art experience was needed to come along, both him and Christine immediately answered with emphatic “no”s.

“All the attendees, at all different levels, find really great things to do,” Christine added.

“There is no right or wrong. Everything is a happy accident.”

“We keep all the paintings and write their names and dates on them, so it’s something for the painters to keep to show that there is something they have done and something they enjoyed,” like brilliant painter Geraldine, whose house has become her own personal gallery.

“And it really helps, not with recovery, but with managing the disease, staying interested, keeping your spirits up and finding things you like doing.

“We’re sure there must be more people out in the community who would enjoy coming along!”

Keen painters are also welcome to attend with their carers.

For more information on Painting with Parkinsons, to join or to express your interest as a volunteer, contact Christine at 0412499256, or visit them at the Old Cheese Factory, every Wednesday from 10am to 12pm.