A place to stand, a sense of belonging and connection, whānau … All of us on the recent panel about arts and creativity at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in Wellington used these words to discuss how the arts can nourish our health, wellbeing and sense of community.
Chaired by Hon Grant Robertson, the panel included Aroha Rangi (Creative New Zealand), Sue Orr (Write Where You Are), Tānemahuta Gray (Taki Rua Productions), Stephanie Clare (Age Concern NZ) and me.
I spoke about creative spaces, the survey conducted by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage for Hon Carmel Sepuloni, and their huge potential to improve and sustain people’s wellbeing.
I also mentioned a talented artist and ex-offender I’m mentoring. He attends a creative space on a regular basis where he gets support and guidance in his art-making. He also gets companionship. “If I couldn’t come here every day, I’d be lost,” he has told me. “Once I start making art, I never want to stop.”
That’s just one example of many others. Arts Access Aotearoa’s website is full of stories and profiles that highlight the positive impact of the arts on people’s lives: people in the disability, mental health and Deaf communities, and people who are or have been incarcerated.
Much of this is anecdotal or qualitative evidence and I have sometimes blogged about the need for quantitative research. I was very interested to read a column on the Newsroom website by Annemarie Jutel, Professor of Health at Victoria University.
Professor Jutel is the director ofMataora: Encounters between Medicine and the Arts, an event “exploring a view of medicine and health that values imaginative and philosophical responses along with clinical and scientific thinking”. I'm looking forward to attending this event at Te Papa on Saturday 12 October.
Professor Jutel says we often turn to “evidence” to try and solve health problems in our communities and gain support for initiatives.
“Evidence is a fine thing but it’s not the only thing,” she writes. “Yes, evidence shows how variables influence outcomes and provides us with ways of measuring the impact of what we do. What it doesn’t offer is ways of thinking outside the square because evidence is, by definition, the square.”
An evidence-based focus is about measuring whether something new will work better than the status quo. Although we need this kind of science, she writes, numbers and statistics are just not enough ...
“The arts provide new ways of thinking, not only about individual experience, but about social and cultural experiences of health. Reading a novel, for example, can take us inside our minds, but also inside the mind of the characters. It can transport us to other worlds, where we can find respite from the strain or trauma of our own lives. Even more, it can return human experience back to us … “
She concludes: “As we focus on finding ways around society’s most niggly problems, we’d do well to make a call to the arts and the humanities. The creative tools they provide us may just be the key.”
Over on the SpinOff NZ website, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern writes about the arts and artists of Aotearoa to mark Arts Month NZ. The arts contribute to individual wellbeing and building strong communities. They connect us, start conversations and help tell our stories.
Along with exploring ways to support artists to have sustainable arts careers, the Prime Minister writes that the Government wants to ensure that everyone can access the arts and take part in artistic activities.
“We’re looking at how we can better meet the needs of diverse communities, and help people who experience barriers to participation get involved. Because the arts are for all – and we need to make sure this is reflected in our arts and cultural organisations.”
The arts are for all … These five words reflect what Arts Access Aotearoa is all about as we work with others to increase access to the arts for everyone in this diverse, multicultural, creative and complex land.