Open Arms into ARRTS

Chris stands next to the original work he created at the 2021 ARRTS Program: Story Under the Bridge. Photograph: CPL David Cotton

Chris had served in the RAAF as an aircraft technician for 26 years, after joining at 17, straight out of high school.

Overall it was a career he loved, working across a range of different squadrons, doing several deployments, and spending 18 years servicing every aspect of the AP-3C Orion platform.

But in recent years things began to change, as Chris ended up in a toxic environment, which led to major bouts of depression and the difficult decision to leave the RAAF.

Chris discharged in April 2021 but before that, on the advice of a colleague, he had registered for the ARRTS program.

"I signed up to bring some happiness into my life and that of my family, and to rebuild my trust in people,"

A boss, who had completed ARRTS some years earlier, had recommended the program to Chris.

Although Chris had signed up before leaving the RAAF, by the time he was able to attend in May 2021 he was no longer serving and was unsure whether he would still be eligible to participate.

Following some phone calls to Open Arms, Chris was advised that ARRTS is also open to those who have served and was welcomed into the program.

Given the choice of three artistic streams: music and rhythm, creative writing, and visual arts, Chris chose the latter.

"I wanted to do music because I love to boogie, but was not sure my voice would be good enough, and I'm not really an author, so I went with visual arts."

This led to the creation of a major work, two metres wide and two metres high called Story Under the Bridge.

"It was inspired by my love of music and a visit to the tip"

There, he found dozens of colourful LP album covers, going back to the sixties.

"I wanted to create something that looked like colourful graffiti and that tells my story, from birth to coming here, so I painted words on my 30 favourite covers and suspended them from a frame, as though they were under a bridge... I used words that resonate with me on the covers, both good and bad, and it felt like a huge release."

With ARRTS having finished in June, Chris is now back with his partner and family in Newcastle and has transported his artwork home, where it is on display in his partner's warehouse.

There, Chris plans to keep creating, extending into even bigger works, using spray paint.

"I'm lucky that my partner has an area I can use and that she also likes street art," Chris said.

And Chris' partner and family have noticed some big changes in him since his return from ARRTS.

"They say I'm more relaxed, and I actually feel like I'm floating... Before ARRTS I was often uptight and impatient and would sometimes jump down the throats of the kids, but not anymore.... The program has done wonders for me in the short-term and I know it's going to do wonders for me in the long term as well. I'd recommend it to anyone"

FLTLT Thomas McCoy

What is ARRTS?

ARRTS is the Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork, and Skills program and since 2015 has been successfully facilitating the healing of currently serving and recently transitioned Defence members facing health and wellbeing challenges.

Held at the University of Canberra's Inspire Centre, this innovative four-week residential program offers three creative streams: music/rhythm, visual arts, and creative writing.

In a supportive rank-free and uniform-free environment, participants are mentored by professional artists, musicians, and academics in creating sculptures, paintings, poems, stories, booklets, videos, and songs.

The most recent program ran from May 9 to Jun 4, 2021, with 25 participants, and finished with a spectacular showcase performance for families and invited guests. So far more than 260 people have participated in the program.

Find out more here about forthcoming ARRTS programs or email ARRTS