Arts & Culture Program

SSI launched its Arts & Culture program for refugees and people seeking asylum in February 2014, to harness the positive roles that the arts and cultural activities can play during settlement.

This program also supports newly arrived artists by identifying relevant networks and providing professional development and performance opportunities while they are seeking asylum or during their early stages of settlement.

New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival 2017

The New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival is back again with an expanded program hosting events in June and November. The festival is a celebration of the artistic vibrancy, cultural expressions and heritage of people from refugee backgrounds. Join us in celebrating hope, unity and new beginnings!

The festival has been a free public celebration of the diverse and rich creativity and talents of refugees, migrants and people seeking asylum, since it started in 2015. Your support is vital for the ongoing promotion of diverse cultural and creative talent.

Visit the festival website at for full details. You can also show your support for the great event by sponsoring it, making a donation or becoming a volunteer.

Art exhibitions

SSI produced its first art exhibition Art is Our Voice in 2014, to showcase the works of 15 artists from Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Egypt. The exhibition featured art developed in oil painting, photography, watercolours, copper and glass etching, and even ‘coffee art’. The exhibition opened at Verge Gallery, at the University of Sydney, before traveling to several other galleries around Sydney.  

Art Is Our Voice catalogue cover.
Click here to open the Art is Our Voice catalogue.

Art Is Our Voice was supported by Amnesty International’s University of Sydney branch and the University of Sydney Union.

SSI launched a new group exhibition, Home: Between Here and There, at Bankstown Arts Centre in August 2015. The exhibition showcased the work of eight artists who were seeking asylum in Australia. The exhibition travelled to Adamstown Arts in Newcastle between September and October, before heading to Canberra in early 2016.

In 2016, an art exhibition was held in conjunction with the New Beginnings Refugee Arts & Culture Festival.

SSI New Beginnings 2016 exhibition catalogue cover.Click here to view and download the New Beginnings catalogue.  

Storytelling workshops

SSI has facilitated numerous storytelling workshops, encompassing different mediums, including short filmmaking and creative writing. Project partners include community arts organisation CuriousWorks, which has run workshop programs on filmmaking and photography with refugees and people seeking asylum.  

A volunteer with a boy who is drawing in a workshop
A volunteer with a young workshop participant.

Refugee children and young people in SSI’s Multicultural Foster Care Service have also participated in creative writing workshops at The Sydney Story Factory to develop their use of language and improve their ability to communicate thoughts and feelings. 

SSI has collaborated with the Sydney Writers’ Festival’s Children’s Program, in a series of storytelling workshops to support the voices of young people from refugee backgrounds. The workshops aimed to facilitate and collect stories about the journeys of children who are refugees or who are seeking asylum in Australia, told by the children themselves.

Sydney Writers’ Festival My Story website.

Art and music therapy workshops

SSI runs art and music therapy workshops for refugees and people seeking asylum, to provide relaxed, safe and fun spaces for them to express themselves, enhance their mental wellbeing, explore their creativity and connect with others. Music and art therapy sessions have been held in studios in the Blue Mountains, Granville Youth and Recreation Centre, and at SSI’s Community Kitchen and Playtime.

Two women in front of a large painting at an Art therapy class
Friendships as well as art are made at art therapy workshops.

Music showcases

SSI supports a large number of talented musicians from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, who are keen to perform. SSI has facilitated music showcases, such as performances at festivals, local government events, and at SSI events, including Community Kitchen, Harmony Day celebrations, Volunteer Week, and the New Beginnings Refugee Arts & Culture Festival. 

An Afghan man playing the Tambora
Many of the people SSI supports are talented musicians and artists.

Skills development workshops

SSI supports artists to continue developing their artistic practice while seeking asylum or during the first stages of settlement, through professional development workshops facilitated by established artists and producers.

Home exhibition catalogue.
The Home exhibition was a result of skills development workshops. Click here to open.

SSI Speakers’ Series

SSI launched the Speakers’ Series in April 2014. The Speakers’ Series is based around panel discussions between experts from different fields who are knowledgeable about refugee and asylum seeker issues. SSI has hosted four Speakers’ Series events each year since 2014.

Maha Abdo of the Muslim Women's Association at an SSI Speakers' Series.
Maha Abdo of the Muslim Women's Association at an SSI Speakers' Series.

These events aim to inform, connect and challenge the audience – made up of members of the public as well as SSI staff and volunteers – by providing opportunities for discussion that enhance knowledge and awareness about issues impacting the vulnerable communities supported by SSI.

You can check out past Speakers’ Series events on SSI’s You Tube channel.

Further reading

There is wide recognition of the positive roles that arts and culture can play in the initial phases of refugee settlement and in supporting the wellbeing of people seeking asylum.

Arts and Refugees: history, impact and future

Music Therapy Helps Refugees