Home  /  Stories  / 

Celebrate Wellness and Mental Health Through an Arts Lens

13 Oct 2020
Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards provide a much needed glimmer of hope in an otherwise torrid 2020.

Recognising those who go above and beyond for their communities provides a much-needed boost to the spirits in a year where it’s needed more than ever. Honouring mental health advocates adds an even more poignant stamp to it.

Creativity and the arts can build our resilience, sense of belonging and purpose. Mental health and wellbeing are interrelated and it’s about our emotional, psychological, physical and social wellbeing. 

Arts Access Aotearoa is doing their best to find and honour works that hold these hand and hand. Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards celebrate the achievements and contributions of people and communities who provide these pathways and make Aotearoa New Zealand a rich, diverse and creative country - whether it’s providing opportunity for those with disabilities or geographic isolation. With an accessible and now more familiar than ever approach to the awards, you can watch them live on their website at 6.30pm on Tuesday 13 October. 

Arts important - now more than ever

2020 is stressful and as we edge closer to 2021, I grow apprehensive that our new turn of phrase will be ‘and we thought that 2020 was bad!’ 

Arts Access Aotearoa Executive Director Richard Benge however, is “convinced that creative spaces throughout New Zealand have a huge potential to nurture our mental health and wellbeing.” A far more positive approach, and in NZ one that we can wear without necessarily a mask.

Arts Access Aotearoa Executive Director Richard Benge interviewed by Wellington Access Radio's Mike Gourley. Photo: Supplied.

In July 2019, key findings from research requested by Minister Carmel Sepuloni show that participation in these community art spaces provide social interaction, increased confidence, improved wellbeing, increased creative expression/skills, increased self-esteem, a sense of belonging, communication skills, connection with their local community and self-development.

There has been increased demand for the services of many of these spaces over this past year as unemployment rises and the pandemic impacts on people’s mental health.

      Finding funding

The trouble is the long-term lack of funding in these creative spaces. With consistent sustainable investment, many of them have the potential to deliver more programmes, services and projects to address the gaps and growing demand.

“It’s very challenging for some people to get involved in the arts”, says Benge, “if people and places aren’t welcoming, accessible and inclusive. Creative spaces provide a safe, supportive place to create art and perform. Increasingly, arts organisations, museums and galleries are becoming more accessible.”

Richard Benge and curator Kerence Stephen of Taupō Museum at the opening of an exhibition of work by men at Tongariro Prison. Photo: Supplied.

Creative spaces reach out to communities that are the hardest to reach, with arts programmes and projects held on marae, for young people and so on. With more funding, these spaces could achieve greater outreach and provide so much more for people.

Sustainable and certain funding is an ongoing issue for arts in community and correctional settings, and for disabled artists. COVID-19 has created a reinvigorated government interest in the arts and wellbeing. Creative New Zealand and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage are investing significantly in cultural regeneration. 

Powerful pathways paved

To be honest, having access to arts is never something I’ve had to worry about, there’s always been TV shows I could watch, music I can get my hands on and books I can read. 

Arts Access Aotearoa not only highlights the beautiful and powerful pathways people in our communities are creating to make art more accessible, but they’re also reminding those who are able-bodied and fortunate enough to have a spare $20 to see a play, how lucky we are. 

So as I take my morning fluoxetine, and contemplate what vast array of Netflix shows I’ll watch on a slow day off, I feel grateful that I’ve been able to see three live theatre shows this week. So watch the awards, see the work people are doing in the community, vote to improve the lives of those who don’t have the same opportunities as you and be the change you want to see.