The University of Melbourne in Australia has more than 20 museums and collections opened to the public. On our last visit to this campus, Ruth and I visited the Grainger Museum. This time we explored the Dax Centre. It was memorable and the staff was exceptionally welcoming.
The DAX Centre is a museum with a mission. On the ground floor of the Melbourne Brain Centre, its not-for-profit reason-to-be is to increase understanding of mental illness. It was founded by Dr. Eric Cunningham Dax, an English psychiatrist who moved to Australia in 1952 and changed attitudes about mental health. One service he believed in and promoted was an art therapy program. Dr. Dax “believed strongly that art offered a communication tool for patients to develop richer understanding of their experiences associated with mental illness, to offer windows into their minds and to aid in recovery” according to the information that accompanies his portrait in the Dax Centre. The art he collected was created by patients experiencing distress and he believed that it opens windows into their minds. Not all of the works on display are paintings. The staff took Ruth and me into the archives to see a multi-colored jacket that was created over several years with every single bit of thread that one woman found.
During his lifetime, Dr. Dax realized that the art made by those suffering from mental illness, PTSD, trauma, etc. has value for all of us, and he collected and preserved 8,000 items, including many paintings. The DAX Centre has added 7,000 more as the collection grew. Seen by students of all ages and professional groups, the works on display in the DAX Centre reveal the minds of their creators. Because the DAX Centre constantly mounts new, themed shows, what you see if you’re lucky enough to experience it or visit their website will not be what Ruth and I saw.
While there, I was able to share a couple of ideas with the DAX Centre staff. I told them about the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, MO, which has a similar mission, and the fascinating story of artist William Utermohlen, who bravely decided to keep painting as his Alzheimer symptoms grew so that the world could see the face of dementia. I have written about both. They can be accessed by putting Glore or Loyola University in the search window on this blog.
Melbourne is a city with an extensive tram system. Ruth and I easily traveled to the DAX Center on tram 19, which took us practically to the door of the Kenneth Myer Building. The ever-changing, 5 Compass DAX Centre is on its first floor.