Findings from research about the creative spaces sector, conducted by Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage back in 2019, showed the need for more engagement and partnerships with Māori and Pacific communities.
Four creative spaces in the Waikato region plan to help address that gap, thanks to three-year funding provided by the Government through Manatū Taonga’s Creative Spaces Initiative.
The creative spaces are Artists in the Making in the Coromandel, Arts For Health in Hamilton, Te Whare Toi o Ngaaruawaahia and Toi Ako Te Kauwhata. The funding will allow each of them to expand their programmes and employ new staff.
Lizzy Leckie, Senior Support Worker at Artists in the Making, says the additional funding means they will be able to “increase access to their programmes for people facing barriers of social isolation and inequity”.
Artists in the Making operates in Whitianga and will soon expand into Coromandel Town, which Lizzy hopes will result in greater numbers of Māori and Pasifika people attending the creative space, as well as people on low incomes.
“Our priority is to work alongside Māori communities and invite them to join Artists in the Making. The Upper Coromandel has a large Māori population and also has people who face barriers to participation because of lower incomes and isolation.”
Lizzy says that living in remote areas can create access barriers but small communities are also interconnected, with often high levels of trust, awhi and support.
Te Whare Toi o Ngaruawahia Interim Manager June Rowland says the creative space will employ more staff to expand its programmes and reach more people in Ngaruawahia and beyond – a luxury it’s never had before.
The creative space plans to create specific toi Māori programmes, as well as programmes for older people and other vulnerable communities. But firstly, it will consult the “flaxroots” communities in Ngaruawahia and beyond to find out what people most want.
“The funding has provided us with an opportunity to make a real difference,” June says. “There are a lot of small, isolated communities we want to connect with. COVID-19 is making it difficult to do that at the moment but it has highlighted the absolute need for the arts and places like us to support our wellbeing and provide a place to belong to.”
At Toi Ako Te Kauwhata, Manager Lauren Hughes says the funding means the creative space will be able to develop new programmes. “We’ll be focusing on youth and Māori participation, taking arts opportunities into our surrounding districts and being responsive to the needs of vulnerable groups within the community.”
The funding will also help alleviate some of the effects of COVID-19.
For instance, Artists in the Making and Toi Ako Te Kauwhata have artists on both sides of the Auckland border. Looking after both groups can be challenging.
“Covid has literally divided our community,” Lauren Hughes says. “Distance is always a barrier to people in the outlying areas but it’s exacerbated at the moment because the Auckland boundary cuts right through our districts.
“Even if we were able to re-open on the Waikato side we may still need to cater virtually for our artists on the Auckland side of the border.”
Arts For Health Manager Cass Hendry says COVID-19 “impacted heavily on us and our artists” when the Waikato went into Level 3 restrictions. “All our workshops, classes, open studios and community outreach programmes have been stopped. We’ve responded by providing Facebook Live and YouTube videos from our art therapists and art tutors.”
For Cass, who is a trained art therapist, one of the biggest rewards of working for Arts For Health is seeing the huge changes that creativity can make to people’s lives. For the artists, it’s a chance to build relationships, develop confidence, and gain a sense of purpose and belonging, she says.
“Some people are already really accomplished artists while others are just learning, but it doesn’t matter – it’s about inclusion and accessibility.”
Cass says the funding is long overdue. “It’s a good response from the Government in acknowledging the power of the arts to form strong communities, and we’re thankful to be part of that process.”