The Dax Centre

The Dax Centre conducts programs that utilise the Cunningham Dax Collection. The Dax Centre uses this Collection as the centrepiece of exhibitions and learning programs for students at all levels, as well as for the community at large. The Centre also conducts 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 the Cunningham Dax Collection. The 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, and this location facilitates many of these collaborations.

The Dax Centre Ltd is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee with charitable/DGR status.

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 mental health care which transformed asylums into communities offering respect and care for individuals with mental illness, and in the use of art to promote clinical insight and mental health improvements. He is credited with the formal introduction of art programs into institutions and treatment programs for patients with mental illness. This revolutionary idea resulted in the development of a wide and multifaceted approach using the creative arts to understand mental illness and promote mental health issues.

 Dr Eric Cunningham Dax

Dr Eric Cunningham Dax

Origins

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 clinical approaches to 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. Edward Adamson continued to work at Nether and his collection is now supported by the Wellcome Foundation, England.

Innovative approaches

Because of Dr Dax’s innovative approaches to achieving mental health he was appointed as 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 incarceration of the mental ill in dastardly conditions to a world-leading mental health system with an emphasis on modern, humane treatment within the community rather than the asylum. 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 as world leading in caring for 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 within the community.  He used the art of people with mental illness to engender understanding and create empathy towards mental illness. He utilised the press to counter the stigma towards mentally ill people, and to counter the derogatory language used to describe them.  For the general community, he found the artworks to be effective in not only promoting understanding but in demystifying mental illness and creating empathy with people suffering mental illnesses.  He encouraged the creation of community-based support organisations, such as the Mental Illness Fellowship and VATMI.  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.