Picture: Dr Eric Cunningham Dax circa the mid-1990s
Dr Eric Cunningham Dax circa the mid-1990sThe Dax Centre houses the Cunningham Dax Collection, which comprises 15,000 creative works by people with experience of mental illness and/or emotional trauma, collected by Dr Eric Cunningham Dax between the 1950s and the 1980s. It is one of the three largest collections of its kind in the world, including the Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg, Germany, and the Musee de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.
During the course of the twentieth century there was an increasing interest in the therapeutic value of art and recognition that the creative works of people with mental illness can offer insights into their inner experiences. At the same time, there was also a growing appreciation of the artistic merit of these works both by artists and the broader community.
Dr Eric Cunningham Dax was part of this development. In 1946, while superintendant at Netherne Hospital, a progressive psychiatric facility in England, Dr Dax introduced clinical art programs as a treatment component in mainstream psychiatry. Dr Dax collected a selection of these creative works to educate mental health staff. In time, however, he recognised a broader application for these works: their capacity to educate the public about mental illness.
Sixty years in the making, the Cunningham Dax Collection has grown to become the Dax Centre, a vibrant community and educational resource dedicated to the conservation and ethical exhibition of these creative works. A growing audience of more than 12,000 people visit the Dax Centre each year.