Globally, there is an increasing evidence base for the benefits of the arts to our health and wellbeing. They are increasingly valued as a cost-effective way to nurture healthy and resilient communities. Now, a national network and digital hub Te Ora Auaha has launched to grow the field here in New Zealand, sharing research and toolkits and advocating for policy change and investment.
We spoke to a few of the people behind the project to ask why art is so important to health and why we need this network now more than ever.
A mounting movement
Professor Peter O’Connor of Auckland University and PhD student Amber Walls have spent years researching international art and health organisations and grassroots work in New Zealand.
“There is some incredible work across the country but with inadequate resources, limited visibility, no policy recognition and unsustainable funding models,” Walls explained.
They recognised the need for a national alliance across art, education and health. Te Ora Auaha is the culmination of this multidisciplinary movement, described as “an advocacy body, a coordinating group, a voice for the sector and a way to bring the sector together.”
“Much of life strips people of their humanity by making the world ugly,” said O’Connor. “[The arts] create opportunities to make things that remind us of the beauty, joy and wonder of being alive and that heals us individually and communally. The arts provide us a bridge to hope… they are what makes us human and, in a world where that is constantly taken off us, they are also a place of resistance.”
Professor O’Connor says there are excellent examples of the arts being used to promote health and wellbeing in New Zealand hospitals, schools, community-based creative spaces, communities and prisons.
Te Ora Auaha is supported by a number of organisations, practitioners and artist Tiffany Singh, who specialises in socially engaged art such as ‘Fly Me Up to Where You Are’ which was awarded by the Human Rights Commission.
“The alliance is vital because it’s pulling together a fragmented field. There hasn’t been anywhere for [like-minded artists] to come together and talk about creative practice and share outcomes and share measurements so being able to generate a collective impact is really important,” believes Tiffany. “[Te Ora Auaha] has come at a critical time, a time when New Zealand is redefining who we are, how we want to be seen as a nation and what our priorities are with regards to our people.”
Hon Carmel Sepuloni promises greater focus
The network was launched by Hon Carmel Sepuloni, Minister of Social Development and Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage who promised greater government focus on culture and creativity in Aotearoa, noting that arts for health and wellbeing is a well-established practice in countries such as the UK, Australia and Canada. Sepuloni said the initiative is aligned with the government’s world-first wellbeing approach to the Budget.
“It represents a big shift to a new compassionate way of policy making that explicitly and unapologetically puts New Zealanders’ wellbeing first,” she said.
“Not only do arts initiatives contribute to our personal health and happiness in myriad ways, they also help foster tolerance and understanding, building a more inclusive and cohesive society – the kind of society we want our tamariki to grow up in.”
Professor O’Connor hopes this signals the beginning of proper recognition of the arts’ power to make a healthier New Zealand.
“The government has talked about the power of the arts, now they need to tangibly support it alongside the research we do at the university and the bringing together of the network,” he said.
What we learned from Christchurch
Te Ora Auaha’s launch follows a recent study into the impact of Christchurch’s Ōtautahi Creative Spaces which was set up after the earthquake to boost wellbeing, social connection and resilience through creativity. The study reported that “the safe, inclusive, highly resourced and supportive psycho-social environment of the programme was emphasised as contributing to positive wellbeing and general health.”
Dr Lucy D’Aeth, Health Promotion Specialist with the Canterbury District Health Board, part of the team that launched Ōtautahi Creative Spaces, believes that Te Ora Auaha is hugely timely:
“In light of the events of 15 March, and given the long-standing concern about people’s wellbeing as a result of the Christchurch earthquakes, there has never been such urgency to support communities to express and heal themselves through art and creativity.”
Te Ora Auaha: Creative Wellbeing Alliance Aotearoa is made up of individuals, groups and organisations across the arts, health, youth, social and education sectors. For further information see www. The Creative Thinking Project at the University of Auckland. This will umbrella the organisation and will provide administrative support for its day to day operation. You can find Rt Hon Carmel Sepuloni's speech from the launch event on Arts Access Aotearoa here.
Images of launch event kindly provided by Arts Access Aotearoa. Portrait of Rt Hon Sepuloni supplied.
*The Big Idea Arts & Well-Being Week*
We believe that the arts play an essential role for our well-being.
All our stories this week, April 1 - 6, will look into the importance of the arts for our health - make sure to check them out here, here and here! #artsmatter