Hon Carmel Sepuloni presents the award to Lis Rate-Smith, Deborah Kavanagh and Geoff Howard of Art-East

“I was completely gobsmacked,” says Lis Rate-Smith when she was told that the Christchurch creative space Art-East was the recipient of the Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award, presented at Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2021 on Monday 5 July.

 “It’s an absolute honour to receive this level of acknowledgement for our work, which has been very much a labour of love, and has functioned on very limited time and resources.”

Lis Rate-Smith and Geoff Howard in the Art-East spaceArt-East’s founder and facilitator, Lis says it’s “a privilege” to be part of the journeys of Art-East members. “Our purpose is to help people connect with community through the arts.”

The judges of the award commented, “Wow! Art-East is a rich mix of intersecting projects that are empowering artists as citizens. The work is grounded in a Kaupapa Māori framework, upholding a quality of practice that incorporates collaboration, innovation and inclusion. We were deeply moved by the story of the Family Recovery Garden Te Oranga Rā and by the coming together of the community of Art-East artists to honour the life and work of one of the artists who passed away.”

Art-East’s art programme set up in 2014

Art-East’s art programme, set up in 2014, is aimed at people who have struggled or are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction issues, mental distress, isolation, social stigma, institutionalisation and homelessness.

Tee-shirt designs created by Art-East artistsIt’s a multi-disciplinary art studio, incorporating drawing, painting, mosaics, stone-carving, papermaking, woodburning, printing and sculpture. There are regular field trips to local galleries and other attractions in the wider arts community, and local artists are invited to share their skills at the studio.

“Originally we set out to create a space where people with drug and alcohol issues, and everything that goes with that, could come and experience creative therapies while ultimately gaining a sense of community and connection,” Lis says.

“As the years have gone by, we’ve opened up to more people who are also seeking support, wanting to discover who they are creatively while expressing themselves and processing emotions through the arts.

“I wanted to begin an arts-based programme because of a growing dissatisfaction with what is essentially a very medical model of alcohol and drug addiction treatment within mainstream services. The focus is invariably around a person’s deficits and tends to have a narrow lens on what constitutes ‘wellness’.

“Instead of focusing on what was ‘wrong’ with the person, we wanted to tap into undiscovered or existing strengths that would give them a stronger sense of self and purpose.

“I’m a great believer in the need to replace any maladaptive behaviours with positive activities, behaviours and expression. For me, this can be achieved through the arts.”

Feedback from participants

Some of the feedback from participants in this group includes:

  • "Thank you for this group. It’s been more than I could have dreamed of and is helping me heaps daily."
  • "The most important things have been mixing as a group, sharing with others and being understood."
  • "Wish it could be two times a week!!"
  • "Nice to learn and share and help each other do better and get well."
  • "I love the information and skills/strategies I’ve learnt along the way.  Sharing and listening in the group has been helpful. I love the art!!"
  • "I do artwork instead of using drugs all day."

Art-East is a recipient of funding from the Creative Spaces Initiative, the Government’s three-year $18 million fund for creative spaces delivered through Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

“This funding means we’ll be able to provide a space more frequently to more people. We’ll also be able to collaborate in more community projects and increase the profile of our artists.”

Collaborating with the Pathway Trust

Since 2018, Art-East has been collaborating with the Pathway Trust to run weekly screen-printing workshops with men in the Navigate Unit at Christchurch Men’s Prison.

“We’re making plans to expand our re-integration work, including a screen-printing studio so the men can continue building on the skills they’ve already learned through our workshops in prison.  

“We also want to focus on providing individual support for more vulnerable members – people with complex needs who may feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable with the dynamics of a group setting.”

Lis says she continually receives “overwhelmingly positive feedback” from the artists about the value and significant difference the programme makes to their wellness and reintegration journey.

“Many speak of the opportunity the programme has given them to express and process their situations and experiences safely. Positive social connection, community engagement and the ability to foster ‘normal and healthy’ interactions are all things we’ve come to observe and appreciate in our collaborative work with the initiative.”

Art-East: connecting with community through the arts


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