Big Anxiety Research Centre

BARC hero image 3

Transforming mental health through cultural innovation

The Big Anxiety Research Centre [BARC] is a unique transdisciplinary enterprise, dedicated to transforming thinking and practice in mental health through creative collaboration and cultural innovation.

We research lived experience through a distinctive combination of trauma-informed, psychosocial research and creative practice, developing the rich communications and engagement practices we need to understand, connect with and support everyday experiences of mental health, trauma and suicidality.

Our mission is to attune to lived experience, to promote innovative creative experimentation and wide community engagement, and to collectively generate the tools, programs and creative media we need to support mental and emotional health throughout our communities.

BARC has evolved from the former National Institute for Experimental Arts [NIEA] and builds on the success of The Big Anxiety festivals in Sydney (2017 and 2019) and the growing research base in arts and health at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture.

Participatory Research & Engagement

The Big Anxiety

BARC supports The Big Anxiety - one of the world’s largest mental health arts festivals and an ongoing engagement program. Founded in Sydney 2017, The Big Anxiety is a national festival, staged in both Queensland (Brisbane and Warwick) and Melbourne in 2022.
opens in a new window

fEEL Lab

BARC incorporates the ARC Laureate Felt Experience & Empathy Lab (fEEL). The lab brings together specialists in immersive media, participatory design, trauma studies and psychology to advance new methods in the study of embodied subjective experience.
opens in a new window


BARC incorporates emLAB: the ethnographic media LAB, which brings together a community of researchers and practitioners working at the intersections of media, technology, ethnography and art.

Creating impact by designing immersive experiences

ARC Laureate & UNSW Scientia Professor Jill Bennett and her team co-design immersive art projects with individuals and communities with lived experience of trauma across regional, rural and remote Australia. Founder of the Big Anxiety Festival and the UNSW Big Anxiety Research Centre, Jill shares insights into the kinds of impact immersive art can have, and on the ways we think about mental health services, pointing to new ways of supporting people from the perspective of lived experience. The projects featured are Waumananyi (Man in the Log), led by Uti Kulintjaku (commissioned for The Big Anxiety, 2019), Parragirls Past, Present (The Big Anxiety, 2017) and EmbodiMap (fEEL) - visit fEEL Lab for details.

We are currently reviewing our program for 2023-26. Research areas include:

  • Virtual reality environments for mental health and trauma support
  • Digital Story-telling with embodied media
  • Dementia and ageing experience
  • Trauma-informed participatory design
  • Psychosocial design and qualitative evaluation
  • Suicidality and future thinking
  • Transgenerational trauma
  • Experience-led research methods
  • Music and emotion
  • A machine for Shame

Core Team

Jill Bennett headshot
Scientia Professor & Australian Research Council Laureate


Caroline Lenette headshot
Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences

Deputy Director

Professor, School of Arts & Media Michael Balfour
Professor, School of Arts & Media
Portrait of Marianne Wobcke

Research Associate: Indigenous-led practice

opens in a new window
Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences Maree Higgins
Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences
Associate Dean Engagement & Impact and Director, Ethnographic Media LAB Jennifer Biddle
Associate Dean Engagement & Impact and Director, Ethnographic Media LAB
Portrait of Bec Moran

Lived Experience Engagement Fellow (NHMRC ALIVE)

opens in a new window
Portrait of Indigo Daya

Research Associate: lived experience-led practice

opens in a new window
Professor of Mental Health, Black Dog Institute Katherine Boydell
Professor of Mental Health, Black Dog Institute
Research Fellow: psychosocial practice Lydia Gitau
Research Fellow: psychosocial practice
Research Fellow: psychosocial design Gail Kenning
Research Fellow: psychosocial design
Research Fellow: immersive media Volker Kuchelmeister
Research Fellow: immersive media
 Bridging Hope Charity Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow Poppy de Souza
Bridging Hope Charity Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow
School of Art & Design Alex Davies
School of Art & Design

Highlights from The Big Reach, Brisbane 2022

Highlights from The Big Anxiety Forum, Naarm 2022

The Big Anxiety – Taking Care of Mental Health in Times of Crisis (Bloomsbury 2022) brings together essays and dialogues from thinkers and artists across a range of disciplines to re-imagine approaches to crisis, support, and care.

Features artists/writers/researchers from The Big Anxiety festival including Siri Hustvedt, Claudia Rankine, Evelyn Araluen, Noreen Giffney, Lynn Froggett, Marianne Wobcke, Jill Bennett, fEEL Lab, Uti Kulintjaku.

The Big Anxiety
BARC is partnering with the Australia Council for the Arts to advance policy and practice in relation to arts and mental health
Online launch of the Big Anxiety Research Centre, 11 November 2022

Contact us

UNSW School of Art & Design 
Cnr Oxford St & Greens Rd 
Paddington NSW 2021 

T: (02) 9065 0455