Investing in access to the arts pays dividends


The election campaign is in full swing with announcements about what parties will do if they are leading or part of the next government. The economy, security and health are the big issues: there’s no mention of the arts and their value or benefits to the economy, security or health.

Research, reviews and reports demonstrate that investment in making the arts accessible – in creative spaces, in prisons, for Deaf and disabled artists and communities – pays dividends. Keep reading this blog for a story about a former prisoner who took tikanga-based arts and whakairo programmes and is now running his own business.

Reducing the barriers for people to be able to create art and participate as audience members, gallery and museum visitors, and readers improves mental health and wellbeing. There are financial benefits because as the arts improve wellbeing, fewer people need support of the public health system. 

Across Aotearoa New Zealand, there are more than 80 creative spaces – inclusive, dynamic places where people who experience barriers to participation can explore their creativity. These barriers include learning or physical disability, neurological conditions, mental health distress, age-related vulnerability (senior citizens or vulnerable youth), cultural isolation or poverty.

Significant results and impact of $18 million investment

A recent Manatū Taonga report shows the positive impact of $18 million investment via the CARE Fund. It’s increased employment and access; strengthened the sector; reached more Māori and Pacific communities; and provided mental health and wellbeing benefits. When investment is strategic, targeted and well-managed, as this fund has been, the results and impact are significant.

Here's just one of many examples illustrating the impact the arts can have on our mental health, self-confidence and wellbeing. In July, I attended the opening of an exhibition of work by rangatahi in Whakatū Nelson. Thanks to Magenta Creative Space, recipient of the Whakahoa Whakawatea Kaitoi Tangata Holdsworth Creative Spaces Fellowship 2022, rangatahi living with mental health distress took part in a programme led by mentor, art tutor and artist Samara Davis. This resulted in RA.P.–I.D., an exhibition of work by the young people. The rangatahi I met felt a sense of belonging and achievement, a willingness to learn new skills and increased wellbeing. Watch this great video

Recently, I was pleased to read a story in Te Ao Māori News about a former prisoner, Mark, whose decision to participate in tikanga-based arts and whakairo programmes at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison has led to life and work opportunities on his release. He also completed an NCEA level 4 business certificate and with whānau and an Emerge Aotearoa initiative, The Generator he has developed his new carving business.

I remember being impressed by Mark’s talent when I visited the prison to collect the two trophies he had carved for Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2021.

This month, Mark is opening a new gallery in his hometown, Dargaville. Called Tika Pono Toi Gallery and Studio, the gallery will showcase artists from Te Tai Tokerau and beyond. You can read Mark’s story, called Inmate to gallery owner: Tāne won’t let past define future

There’s an opportunity for everyone concerned about the future of the arts to participate. The Regional Arts Network of Aotearoa, Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi and other arts organisations are calling for a national strategy for arts, creativity and culture, to be developed with the next elected government.

On the website explaining the need for a national strategy and how we can all be involved, it says: “Despite the cultural, social and economic value of our arts and culture, and the stresses on our artists, makers, performers and the organisations that support them, the sector continues to drift without a vision or strategy to meet its current needs or guide its development.”

A map for intentional development and investment

It also says the strategy would “provide a map for intentional development and investment. It can help inform decisions about key issues, such as education and sustainable career pathways, and guide government, local government, philanthropic and corporate investment to where it will have the most impact.”

The group is calling for us – artists, creatives, makers, shakers, cultural activists, anyone from the creative communities – to contribute to this collective, sector-led strategy.

There are three opportunities for us to contribute:

  • RSVP to an online wānanga from 6:30pm to 8pm on Wednesday 4 October
  • RSVP to an online wānanga from 1pm to 2:30pm on Saturday 7 October
  • Send your comments to RANA if you can’t make either of the wānanga.

It’s fantastic to see this important collective action across the arts sector. Arts Access Aotearoa will be using its voice to ensure access to the arts for everyone in New Zealand is embedded across all areas of the planned strategy.



Investing in access to the arts pays dividends


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