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Image; Messengers Students in front of a mural they painted with artists Mistery (Matt Peet) and Smalls (James Small) at the Holt shops in 2016.

If ever there was an arts program significantly influencing and changing the lives of creative teenagers across the ACT – it is the Messengers Program of the Tuggeranong Community Arts Association. 

First funded through a suicide prevention initiative in January 2000, Messengers has provided young people from the age of 12 years a creative respite from the pressures of navigating adolescence. Countless artists, theatre-makers, musicians and filmmakers have either worked in the program or learned their creative skills by participating in the program. “Today, we have tutors in the program who carry a wealth of mental health recovery knowledge, as well as professional arts practitioner skills; however, most important is the firm belief that art can heal trauma and is a strong tool to explore, understand and overcome mental health problems,” says current Program Manager Penny Stott. 

One of the program’s most influential managers was Dr Garry Fry, who was instrumental in the program’s transition from a small art program in the Tuggeranong Valley to a recognised early intervention program. Garry’s vision was to build creative skills in young people enabling them to explore and tell their stories, whilst providing them with professional psychological support and intervention. 

“Early adolescence equals vulnerability,” Dr Fry says, “and the young people that came to us who were challenged by life, were given the task to show their challenges and confront them through drama, writing, music and visual arts – and they did. The work they created sent out their message, and with the experience of having personal control of their situation, their resilience grew.” 

The program continues to adapt to the fast-paced world that can be a difficult and painful place for young people who are experiencing first signs of depression and anxiety or even self-harming and disengaging from family and friends. Today Messengers is an innovative ACT-wide program with a demonstrated legacy of supporting young people in creative ways. The program continues to evolve and adapt to the current needs of young people and provides one of the more unique engagement programs in Canberra. The wealth of experience gained over 20 years of operation makes Messengers an important part of youth service delivery in the A.C.T.