HIV Free Generation: AH&MRC Street Art Project

HIV Free Generation: AH&MRC Street Art Project

HIV Australia | Vol. 13 No. 3 | December 2015

By Sallie Cairnduff, Darren Braun and Kaylie Harrison

‘It was real good spray painting and stuff, we had a lot of fun. And we learnt more about HIV which I didn’t even know what it meant when I first went to class’.

— Participant

Over the last few years, the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW (AH&MRC), in partnership with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs), Local Health Districts (LHDs) and other nongovernment organisations (NGOs), has used an arts-based approach to successfully engage young Aboriginal people in health promotion activities around sexual health and drug and alcohol use.

Recent state-wide projects, including ‘It’s Your Choice, Have a Voice’, ‘Where’s the Shame? Love Your Liver’ and ‘Staying Strong: Act Connect Survive’, have provided Aboriginal young people with relevant health education as well as engaging them in writing and filming songs and creating hip-hop dance routines.

Evaluations of these and other projects have demonstrated that an interactive arts-based approach is an effective way of engaging young Aboriginal people on topics that might otherwise cause shame.

About the project

Inspired by the 2014 International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV and AIDS, AH&MRC identified a need to refocus activities with young Aboriginal people around HIV, STIs and injecting drug use.

The HIV Free Generation Street Art Project is based on the hepatitis C project, ‘Your Mob My Mob Our Mob’, which was run by the AH&MRC, in partnership with Hepatitis NSW in 2012–2013 and delivered in five juvenile detention centres and in three community settings.

The ‘HIV Free Gen’ project aims to increase knowledge of prevention, testing and management of HIV, sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and hepatitis C among Aboriginal young people (15–25 years old).

In partnership with ACCHSs, the project was delivered in four locations from December 2014–June 2015, involving schools, youth services and other local services.

The project consisted of the following:

  • Interactive educational activities, that included peer to peer learning as well as focusing on positive sexual health messages
  • Street art as a way to engage young Aboriginal people, and to leave a mural as a permanent contribution to the community
  • A social media component to encourage further reach to peers
  • Community engagement through a launch of the final mural and BBQ
  • Capacity building component through working with participating ACCHSs.

Thirty-eight young Aboriginal people (8–11 per site) participated in the face-to-face education activities and mural development, and a further 2,000 people were reached via the social media component of the project.

Mural from Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation

Project format

The AH&MRC developed a program template, which was adapted to local needs and the skill and confidence of local workers. In the majority of locations, the project was organised and delivered by experienced Aboriginal STI HIV and hepatitis C workers.

In other locations, local workers were less confident in delivering education to young people, and additional support was provided.

AH&MRC also provided STI, HIV and hepatitis C resources and information.

Education tools were taken from AH&MRC’s resource, ‘DOIN ‘IT’ RIGHT!’ These included interactive activities focusing areas such as risk, self-esteem and STIs, and games such as condom races.

The project ran over three days in each location, and was tailored to the groups’ ages and interests.

During the first two days, the young people participated in structured activities focusing on STIs, HIV and hepatitis C, and then worked with a professional street artist to create a mural that communicated key messages they had learnt.

The third day focused on launching the mural to the wider community, as well as celebrating what the young people had learnt and designed.

To extend the reach of the messaging, photographs taken throughout the mural development process were posted on the ‘HIV Free Generation’ Facebook page.

In three locations, a short film clip that included vox pops with participants and workers, was developed and posted on Facebook.

Mural from Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney – Blacktown Youth College.

Engaging young Aboriginal people through street art

Ash Johnson, a professional street artist, provided participants with an overview of street art etiquette, the history of street art, health and safety, and assisted the young people to design and create a mural communicating key messages which emerged out of the education component.

The murals were created in prominent places – a school wall at Blacktown Youth College, a number of walls at Narooma High School, on an external wall at the entrance of the Durri Aboriginal Corporation Medical Services (at Kempsey) and internally at Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation (at Airds).

Mural from Kempsey.

As they are permanently on display, the murals continue to generate discussion in the community, and participants involved in the project have ongoing opportunities to share knowledge with their peers.

At one service, the murals resulted in discussions with board members about the role of sharing injecting drug equipment in transmitting HIV, which has led to further work around improving harm minimisation activities for the area.

The language and messages used by the murals reflect the strengths-based STI and HIV education that young people had been participating in, for example:

  • “Check yo’ self B 4 U wreck yo’ health” – to encourage STI testing (Blacktown Youth College)
  • “Knowledge is power, let’s make it go VIRAL” (Narooma High School)
  • “Don’t stress, Get a test” (Kempsey)
  • “Don’t be shame, be game” to encourage condom use (Kempsey)
  • “You and Me – then let’s talk about HIV” – to discuss sexual transmission of HIV (Airds).

The imagery depicts strong and proud young Aboriginal people making informed choices about their sexual health.

Feedback from the young people is overwhelmingly positive about the street art component, and was identified by some of the workers as one of the key reasons young people continued to participate in the three-day project.

‘I think they loved it and they’ve loved that two walls have been done in areas that Aboriginal kids hang around.’

— Worker

Capacity building and partnerships

AH&MRC supported services to deliver this project by providing a framework for project delivery, including an education session plan.

These plans were adapted according to needs identified by the community (e.g., to focus on injecting drug use, or sexual health education), the age range of the participants and the confidence and skills of the local workers.

Services were required to participate in a pre-project workshop to prepare for the project, and were provided with templates for inviting schools to participate, consent forms for participants and resources to deliver the education component.

ACCHSs identified partner organisations and groups of young people to invite, prepared a wall or space for the street art component, and organised the community launch.

Social media

As the number of participants in each location was small, the reach of the project was extended through social media, managed by AH&MRC’s Sexual Health Project Officer. As of October 2015, the page had nearly 300 ‘likes’ and one post had a reach of more than 1,900 people and more than 700 views.

Naya Ngarra Productions, an Aboriginal media company, were contracted to develop a short video at three locations (Blacktown School, Narooma and Kempsey).

The purpose of the videos was to extend the reach of the project outside of the local area, as well as to capture some of the thoughts of the participants for evaluation purposes. The videos have proved to be very popular in increasing reach of the social media site.

Community engagement

Local community members were invited to participate in the project through the launch of the mural.

Hospitality students from Blacktown Youth College got involved by providing catering for the launch, while at another service, the mural was launched at the organisation’s Christmas lunch.

At most locations, parents, workers, board members, school principals and other staff attended the launch.


‘I want to be one of the HIV generations. I want to make sure that people stop the risk of HIV.’

— Participant

The impact of the project has been collated through pre- and post-workshop evaluations, vox pops comments, and debriefs with workers.

At all locations, participants were encouraged to do pre- and post-project evaluations, via a short true/false quiz.

In some locations it was found that literacy was an issue, so data was also collected via the comments young people made on social media.

From the pre- and post-evaluations, it became clear that there was existing knowledge about HIV transmission through sex without using a condom and blood-to-blood contact.

There was some confusion around HIV transmission through sharing cutlery, which improved after the workshop was delivered, and there was also increased knowledge about services available for young people.

Mural from Narooma High School.

Workers indicated that some of the benefits of the project included: continued discussions around HIV/STIs in local communities; an increased interest in services and young people being engaged in sexual health promotion activities; having highly visible artwork on display that young people can be proud of, relate to and identify with; and evident enthusiasm and pride in being involved with the project.

‘Young people who don’t normally come to school, to come into college and then give up their holidays to work on this project for 3 whole days, it’s outstanding.’

— Worker

To view the HIV Free Generation photos and videos, please visit: or download images here.



Darren Braun, Kaylie Harrison, Bonny Briggs, Alana Rossman, Chantelle Davis (AH&MRC); Ash Johnson, Street Artist; Doli Ufi, Karen Beatson, Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation; Mafi Kailah, Natalie Andrews (AMS Western Sydney), Nicole Brown (Blacktown Youth College); Jade Hansen (Katungal AMS), Racheal Wallace, Jacob Francis Jo Norton-Baker (Wandarma AOD service), Narooma High School; Stacey Donovan (Durri AMS), Madeline Holtmann (North Coast LHD); Larteasha Griffin, Naya Ngarra Productions; and Young Aboriginal people from NSW communities involved in the project.

Sallie Cairnduff is Manager of the Public Health Unit at the The Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council of NSW (AH&MRC), Darren Braun the previous Sexual Health Project Officer, and Kaylie Harrison the Senior Public Health Project Officer.

The AH&MRC is the peak representative body and voice of Aboriginal communities on health in NSW. The AH&MRC represents its members, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs), which deliver culturally appropriate comprehensive primary health care to their communities.