It’s World Community Arts Day on Sunday 17 February – a day that celebrates and promotes the value and impact of arts within communities around the world. Throughout New Zealand, there are fantastic artists, groups and organisations enriching our lives, bringing communities together and providing a sense of belonging.

I feel fortunate that my background is in community arts. I worked in applied theatre with disadvantaged communities – particularly in psychiatric hospitals in Australia and New Zealand. What I know from those experiences is that if people can experience the process of creativity – be it drama, dance, music, painting, pottery or poetry – it makes them happier and able to feel good about their achievements.

Belonging to a community

If you participate in the process as a group, then the benefits are even greater. People, once isolated or lonely, belong to a community.

We often talk about the importance of telling stories to capture what we do. Video is an increasingly popular and powerful way to do that. For example, this recent video, posted by CS Art, a creative space in Invercargill. 

Michelle Dawson, founder and art tutor, says: "We find that if people begin to make choices about things as small as whether it’s red or blue, that extends out in to their lives as well. You know, what else can I make choices about in a safe way? It increases people’s confidence. It increases people’s value in the community, and you know, participating in a classroom-type situation where people are similar, like-minded, kind to each other, I mean it’s not rocket science, it’s a very good thing."

In a Creative New Zealand video, entitled What are community arts?, there are some wonderful, pithy statements answering the question. Jo Randerson of Barbarian Productions says: “It’s a move from ‘the sage on the stage’ – the enlightened person, giving the important information to the passive recipient – to the ‘guide on the side’, who is coaching and encouraging you to facilitate your own journey of learning.”

Director of Jolt Dance in Christchurch Lyn Cotton says: “They’re a collaboration between an artistic group and a community group.” Or as Thomas Heinz, Director of Circability Trust in Auckland, says: “For me, it’s using the arts as a tool to interact with your community. Community arts.”

An essential resource for community arts

Creative New Zealand’s Keteparaha Mō Ngā Toi Hapori | Community Arts Toolkit is a brilliant, essential resource and I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already done so. There are inspiring videos, useful tools and tips, networks, and examples of successful projects and events. 

Jenny Newstead, GASP Dance CollectiveAlong with organisations such as Barbarian Productions, Everybody Cool Lives Here, Taurima Vibes and GASP Dance Collective, there’s a network of creative spaces throughout New Zealand. These organisations provide a place where people are supported to make art and participate in theatre, dance, music, film and creative writing programmes.

The Creative New Zealand toolkit says that a community is defined by the people within it – their location, shared experiences, interests or how they identify themselves.

Arts Access Aotearoa defines “community arts” as collaborative, inclusive arts practice that involves artists working with communities to support artistic, cultural or social expression.

A prison, for example, is a community involving staff and prisoners. Skilled artists and writers come into this community and provide creative learning opportunities in artforms such as creative writing, painting, weaving, carving, music and theatre. This interaction between the prison community and artists is an example of community arts.

Responding to report on mental health and addiction inquiry

This important, timely blog, Arts have an essential role to play in supporting better health and wellbeing outcomes, was written by Stephen Wainwright, Chief Executive of Creative New Zealand.  Responding to the Government’s report on last year’s Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, he calls for specific reference to the health and wellbeing benefits of the arts to be made in the report.

cover of Mental Health Inquiry report“No-one can doubt the scale and scope of the issues we face as a country in the mental health space. We’re concerned though that not covering the powerful benefits of arts may lead to a lack of policy recognition, and potentially funding, for this important contribution to a more sustainable and healthy community for all New Zealanders.

“The Government has said it will respond to the inquiry’s recommendations in March. Before that time we’re calling on policy and decision-makers to seriously consider including our funding considerations in their response.”

Next week, Arts Access Aotearoa will call for nominations to Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2019. These awards acknowledge the contribution of individuals and organisations in providing access to the arts. They also acknowledge the achievements and contribution of a New Zealand artist with a physical, sensory or intellectual impairment, or lived experience of mental ill-health. I encourage you to think about who you will nominate. Please visit the Arts Access Aotearoa website or contact Claire Noble (T: 04 8024349 E: if you have any questions.


Celebrating arts in our communities


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