Inspiring wellbeing through creativity

Creative space profile: Toi Ora Live Art Trust

By Andrea Moxham
Toi Ora Live Art Trust, a creative space in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn, aims to reduce stigma and change people’s views about mental health through the many social and artistic opportunities it offers.

Toi Ora provides studio space, resources and materials free to its members. Each term, approximately 130 people attend classes and workshops in a wide range of arts and craft activities.

Musicians perform at an end-of-term celebrationFacilitated by professional art tutors, the classes include painting, drawing, printmaking, mosaic art, drama, creative writing, music, photography and multimedia/computer graphic studies. There’s also a music-recording facility and the Toi Ora Gallery, which presents regular exhibitions.

In 2010, Toi Ora received Arts Access Aotearoa’s Big ‘A’ Creative Space Award, recognising its strong public profile; list of awards and achievements; and the wide range of artforms and programmes it offers.

Over the past two years, Toi Ora has been developing a creative youth and wellbeing service called Express Yourself. It has also established a workforce development training programme to support artists and youth workers, and build capacity in the sector. 

A non-judgemental environment

Erwin van Asbeck, General Manager of Toi Ora, says its non-judgmental environment stimulates peer support, socialisation and networking. Events such as the end-of-term celebration, with entertainment provided by drama, music and creative writing students, are key opportunities for artists to showcase their work to friends, families and the public.

“Our annual calendar of exhibitions, publications and events has raised the profile of our artists and what we do,” Erwin says.  “In recent years, we’ve seen increased sales of art, and more of our artists transitioning into tertiary education and employment.”

Curator Stuart Shepherd and Erwin van Asbeck, Toi Ora, at the Outsider Art FairIn 2014, Toi Ora organised New Zealand’s first Outsider Art Fair. Held in Auckland, it showcased artistic achievement and featured a curated show by Stuart Shepherd; a creative industries collaboration with local fashion designers; a marketplace exhibition; artist talks and panel discussions; and live art performance.

Toi Ora Live Art Trust was set up in 1995 with a group of 15 mental health consumers and support workers. Its main aim was to fill a gap in the provision of consumer-led, community-based arts and recovery services. 

Promoting positive messages about mental health

At least 50 per cent of the trust’s board comprises people with lived experience of mental ill-health. Other board members are practising artists and business people.

The trust actively promotes positive messages about mental health and collaborates with others to help reduce stigma and discrimination.

Toi Ora artist Andrew Blythe at an exhibition openingWell-known artist Andrew Blythe is one of many artists nurtured by Toi Ora Live Art Trust. He’s had his art exhibited in New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, Paris and New York, and is represented by Auckland’s Tim Melville Gallery. He also received the Attitude Artistic Achievement Award 2012.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 19, Andrew has been working from Toi Ora since 2000 and says that art helps him feel centred and connected to others.

“Art helps me not think about things so much. My thoughts can get overwhelming. I paint when I’m sick and I paint when I’m well. Toi Ora has helped me communicate with other people. I’m always surrounded by people to talk to and that helps me.”

Working in partnership

Working in partnership with other organisations and groups is a feature of how Toi Ora likes to work, Erwin van Asbeck says. For example, it is central to the organisation of the bi-annual Fiesta in the Park, held during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Rachel Coppage, Giant Leap Fonudation, and Erwin van Asbeck, Toi Ora, receive the Big 'A' CQ Hotels Wellington Community Partnership Award 2013 from Olivier Lacoua, General Manager, CQ Hotels WellingtonAnd in 2013, Toi Ora was one of the partners (with Circability Trust and Giant Leap Foundation) in a circus project that culminated in a show called Circolina's Leap. Participants included Deaf performers, disabled people and people from the mental health community.

The successful partnership was recognised when it received Arts Access Aotearoa's Big 'A' CQ Hotels Wellington Community Partnership Award 2013.

Toi Ora receives funding from private and public sources. Its core funders are the Auckland District Health Board with support from philanthropic trusts such as ASB Community Trust, the Lion Foundation and the Todd Foundation.

For more information, please contact:
Erwin van Asbeck
T: 09 360 4171

Last updated 27 March 2015





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