The inaugural online Ngā Wāhi Auaha Creative Spaces Conference 2022 brings fabulous opportunities to ignite possibilities, connect with others working in the field and to continue to develop our community of practice.
With a focus on peer-to-peer learning, the conference is set to elevate diverse voices speaking about the strengths and challenges of our work, as well as how to articulate the difference we make. Here at Ōtautahi Creative Spaces, we’re excited that the conference will open our hearts and minds as to how our work can reach more people, be sustainable and have an even greater impact.
Let’s imagine a world where access to the arts, culture and creativity is an integral part of the support that’s available for mental distress and trauma. Creativity is like a korowai or cloak we wrap around us. It protects us, keeps us warm, carries our stories and helps us feel strong – a vibrant symbol embodying our creative life and our hopes for the future.
The reality for many people is very different to this. Many people feel anxious, isolated and alone, and the pandemic made things a whole lot worse. Yet the mental health system in Aotearoa New Zealand has traditionally relied heavily on medication and counselling: the rate of antidepressants are higher than ever and there’s long waiting lists for counselling.
These interventions help people survive but they are not enough to help people thrive. To flourish we need to be able to connect with others; feel a sense of belonging in a community; and be involved in the things that matter to us.
Artists have a unique role to play in supporting people who’ve experienced mental distress and trauma. The power of creativity has enormous potential for healing to complement clinical treatment, or to step in where treatment options have been exhausted.
Prescribing arts and creativity to help patients
We’d love health professionals to have more options when they’re prescribing medication or counselling, including being able to prescribe arts and creativity to help their patients.
It’s encouraging to see the direction of mental health in Aotearoa moving towards more choice and access for mental health support. A social prescribing model for primary health, Te Tumu Waiora, is being rolled out in GP practices nationally. Specialist staff will now ask the question “What matters to you” instead of the narrow medical focus on “What’s the matter with you”, and connect people with places in the community that fit their interests.
However, the policy is short-sighted in one critical respect – the provision of adequate funding and resourcing for the community services people will be referred to, including creative wellbeing services like Ōtautahi Creative Spaces.
Our work is funded through a patchwork of partnerships and grants, which limit our capacity and give us little security for the future.
There are some strong allies in the health sector who have seen the benefits of creativity for their patients. But there’s a long way to go before health professionals value the health benefits of creativity in the same way they value exercise and being in nature.
"We need to work together"
The creative spaces sector can change this! We need to work together, building relationships with our local health services and demonstrating the difference creativity can make.
There’s lots of work ahead to raise awareness throughout the health sector but there’s no shortage of referrals. Demand for our programmes is stronger than ever since releasing a short film featuring rangatahi artists from Ōtautahi Creative Spaces.
The real challenge is building resources and support for creative wellbeing services to meet the demand.
Fortunately, there’s help at hand! A groundbreaking new advocacy resource will be launched by Creative New Zealand and Te Rōpū Mana Toi, on 25 October. Everyone is invited to the Facebook live launch at 12.30pm. Check out the details.
Called Changing the story on arts, culture and creativity in Aotearoa, the guide is packed with practical advice to help our sector have a collective voice to build support for a future where artists and creativity thrive so all New Zealanders flourish.
Shaping the public narratives
The guide highlights the importance of creating public narratives that celebrate the role that arts, culture and creativity play in our lives, and how to communicate the system changes our sector needs to flourish.
Sharing our experiences at Ngā Wāhi Auaha Creative Spaces Conference will help us shape the public narratives that will see more long-term support for creative wellbeing.
We’ll strengthen support for our sector by demonstrating the special role artists can play in nurturing wellbeing, articulating our work as professional practice, and targeting our work to address health inequities.
Demonstrating how creativity saves lives
Ultimately, we need to promote the arts, culture and creativity as essential infrastructure like hospitals, education and transport – as a public good that needs to be properly resourced.
We know from our work that creativity not only changes lives, it saves lives, and so we’ve got to give it everything we’ve got. In a very positive move, Creative New Zealand’s strategic focus shifts to include wellbeing, and access, inclusion and equity (Statement of Intent 2022 – 2026). This signals a more equitable future, where people who have the poorest health outcomes and least access can thrive through arts, culture and creativity.
Kim Morton is the director of Ōtautahi Creative Spaces, a Christchurch creative wellbeing community, a former trustee at Arts Access Aotearoa and member of its conference advisory group, and a member of Creative New Zealand’s advocacy advisory group Te Rōpū Mana Toi. Kim undertook a research project investigating arts on prescription with the support of a Churchill Fellowship.