Patricia Fenner’s legacy

Associate Professor Fenner has been instrumental in building an internationally recognised program and research strength in art therapy

Associate Professor Patricia Fenner will be leaving La Trobe at the end of February after more than 20 years with the University.

Patricia joined La Trobe as a sessional lecturer in the late 1990’s. She brought with her the knowledge she had gained during post graduate studies at the Hochschule der Kuenste in Berlin in the 1980s and experience as an Art Therapy practitioner and leader in education and community mental health locally. She became Coordinator of the Master of Art Therapy Course in 2012 and built the Art Therapy team to its current size of 6 contracted and 7 sessional lecturers. The Master of Art Therapy Course has an annual enrolment of approximately 45 students.

One of Patricia’s lasting legacies will be her mentorship of the current team who will continue her devotion towards art making as a service to others. She has built the program to be recognized internationally with her research pursuits in the USA, Malaysia, Samoa, Fiji, Israel, Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom. Her areas of interest include aphasia care; cancer survivorship and post traumatic recovery; post-natal depression; ageing and creativity; and eating disorders. These collaborations and the unique positioning of Art Therapy in Public Health have expanded her commitment to diverse applications of art for health and wellbeing and research.

In 2013 Patricia was instrumental in working with colleagues from La Trobe to release an evidence brief for the Deeble Institute asking, Is there compelling evidence for using the arts in health care? In 2014 she extended the questions posed in this report with Dr Bruce Rumbold and Dr Jean Rumbold by hosting a Search Conference exploring the nature of Art-based evidence, suggesting that this is Evidence in a different form. More than 50 nationally and internationally recognised Arts and health practitioners, policy-makers and researchers were invited to a two-day search conference to talk about the nature of arts-based evidence, and ways of researching the impact of arts on health. This innovative conference engaged a participatory enquiry process, enabling participants to share stories in ways that resonated with the question and discuss the issues surrounding the growth and acceptance of arts-based evidence.

Patricia’s commitment to consistently and productively working with international colleagues and partners to develop evidence regarding how the arts can be a catalyst for change has made a significant contribution to the emerging field of Arts and Health, opening doors for people and art that were previously unimaginable. The quality of her work and presentations has elevated the profile and international reputation of the La Trobe Art Therapy program in the process and she has recently been honoured internationally with a Life-time Achievement Award for her contributions to the Arts and Health.

In 2018 Patricia ensured that the Art Therapy program was highlighted in La Trobe’s commitment to being a Learning Partner of the NGV Triennial. A two-day art therapy masterclass brought together experts from La Trobe University’s Master of Art Therapy and Art Institute to explore connections between Yayoi Kusama’s life and practice and the practice of art-making more generally. This highly successful event was a cultural significant moment as the work of art therapy found a place within the public life and arts practice celebrated in the NGV’s Triennial Collection.

Patricia was instrumental in ensuring that the Larundel Collection was donated to La Trobe University by NEAMI in 2018.  The collection comprises more than 1400 pieces, created over many years by patients at the former Larundel Psychiatric Hospital in MacLeod, a site that is now part of La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus. As the collection was gifted to La Trobe Vice Chancellor John Dewar noted, “The significance of this collection lies not only in its historical connection to the very fabric of our campus at Bundoora, but also its recognised value to our core business of teaching and learning – not least within our nationally recognised Art Therapy program”.

Patricia has been an important figure in encouraging the next generation of art therapy research in Australia, playing a pivotal role in supervising both Master by Research and PhD students in the discipline of art therapy and will continue to do so into the future.

Her colleagues in Art Therapy note:

Patricia is “a great collaborator, inviting me to think critically with her about questions that were relevant for our growing profession as we developed art-based research and published together. I have learnt SO much from working with her in this way”.

“As a team member, I always appreciated Patricia’s willingness to provide support, guidance and a space for reflection, which has been invaluable to the art therapy team’s development and growth”.

“Patricia has taught and nurtured many of us as students and continued what has been a treasured relationship as we reconnected to join the teaching and research team. Her strong and unwavering advocacy for the course and for art therapy research, practice and learning have continued to guide and demonstrate courage and strength to me over many valued years”.

Find out more about Patricia's work.