State Programs

Our College of the Arts for people experiencing disadvantage and isolation

Having created Australia’s first choir for people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage with Sydney Street Choir in 2001, Dr Jonathon Welch AM then recreated his highly innovative social inclusion initiative in his home town, Melbourne, with the Choir of Hard Knocks in 2006.

The subject of the internationally acclaimed ABC TV series Choir of Hard Knocks, Jonathon’s new choir won the hearts of the nation, becoming the only artists in Australian music history to be awarded ARIA, Logie and Helpmann awards.

The Choir of Hard Knocks model has ignited the development of specialised choirs around the world, including ‘street’ choirs and special needs choirs for people experiencing health challenges including dementia, Parkinson’s and aphasia. These choirs have emulated the innovative and engaging model for re-connecting isolated individuals with their communities, helping to build mental and physical wellbeing, creating self-confidence and a sense of belonging, and opportunities to contribute meaningfully to society through performance.

Stemming from this concept, Jonathon thought: ‘Why only have a Choir of Hard Knocks when we could create a School of Hard Knocks?’ He conceived of an idea to establish a ‘College of the Arts’ for people experiencing disadvantage and isolation who may never have had opportunities to explore their creativity across all areas of the arts. He wanted to offer the chance to work with talented professionals and volunteer artists eager to ‘pay it forward’ and share their expertise.

And so began the vision for the School of Hard Knocks, which was launched in September 2012 at BMW Edge Theatre, Federation Square.

Today, the School has expanded nationally to engage, educate and empower, training teachers, producing innovative and unique arts and cultural programs for all ages and abilities, and delivering exciting performances and new music around the world.

Ranging from choirs supporting asylum seekers, to creative writing, music theatre, opera, drama, instrument, music and visual art programs, the School of Hard Knocks aims to set new standards in the training, creating and delivery of outstanding, socially inclusive arts programs in the community and welfare sectors. The School’s transformative programs also help build pathways to further education and employment options.