What is The Dax Centre?

The Dax Centre houses the Cunningham Dax Collection, which consists of more than 15,000 artworks created by people with an experience of mental illness or psychological trauma. The Dax Centre uses this Collection as the centrepiece of exhibitions, education programs for students at all levels and for the community at large and specially directed projects in order to promote mental wellbeing.   Our staff works closely with artists and communities who contribute their work and life stories to this Collection. The Dax Centre partners and collaborates with organisations that share a common interest in improving mental health and promoting mental wellbeing by increasing understanding of mental illness and psychological trauma.  The Centre is located in the grounds of the University of Melbourne which facilitates many of these collaborations. The Dax Centre Ltd is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee with charitable status.

Who was Dr Eric Cunningham Dax AO?

The Dax Centre is named after Dr Eric Cunningham Dax (1908–2008).  Dr Dax was a pioneer on two major fronts: the development of community mental health care and in the use of art to promote mental health.  He is credited with the first formal introduction of art programs into institutions and treatment programs for patients with mental illness.   His revolutionary idea resulted in the development of a wide and multifaceted approach which used the creative arts to understand their effect on mental health issues.


In 1946, as Medical Superintendent of the Netherne Hospital in Surrey, England, Dr Dax invited artist, Edward Adamson, to experiment with art programs and assess their clinical advantage.  Their objective was to demonstrate that the art created was related to the clinical status of patients and that the making of art could have a therapeutic effect.  Their aim was to show that the art could help in the understanding of mental illness and reinforce treatment efforts. Dr Dax’ book, Experimental Studies in Psychiatric Art (1953), presented strong evidence for the usefulness of art as therapy in mental illness.  His work was endorsed in the British Medical Journal and gained momentum when the British National Health Service began employing artists to conduct art programs in other hospitals.

Innovative approaches

Because of Dr Dax’ innovative approaches to mental health he was chosen to be the inaugural Chairman of the Mental Hygiene Authority of Victoria in 1951.  In this role he directed the mental health services for Victoria, and initiated wide-ranging reforms that transformed a system from poorly resourced custodial care of dastardly conditions to a world-leading mental health system with an emphasis on modern, humane community treatment. This pioneering work over 15 years was documented in his influential book, From Asylum to Community, published by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1961.  The commissioning of the book established the Victorian system was the world leader in care of the mentally ill.  Over the next decade he acted as a consultant for the World Health Organisation and provided advice on establishing and maintaining mental health services to a number of countries in the Asia Pacific region.

Countering stigma

Dr Dax foresaw the need for a range of issues to be addressed for mental illness treatment and acceptance to be part of community.  He used the art of people with mental illness to engender understanding and to counter stigma.  For the general community, he found the artworks to be effective in not only promoting understanding but in demystifying mental illness.  He encouraged the creation of community-based support organisations, such as the Mental Illness Fellowship.  He was instrumental in the formation of Lifeline, which was one of the very first telephone support services in the world for people in crisis.

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