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Wero Laid Down For Meaningful Sector Wellbeing And Mental Health Support

Photo: Shutterstock.
One of the creative community’s most passionate hauora advocates doesn’t hold back, in a raw and confronting description of why urgent attention is needed.

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Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Tuwharetoa) is a creative sector leader both as a leading Arts and Hauora/Mental Health Advocate with Taurima Vibes and as the Director of Auckland Fringe. 

After years of engagement with arts powerbrokers and working with independent artists feeling the brunt of the current creative climate, he felt this kōrero was vital.

Tukiwaho has this wero to lay.

 

There has been a furore of raging voices from the arts sector demanding a platform for their opinions to be heard over the past few weeks.

Creative New Zealand’s (CNZ) last funding announcements have literally caused a ‘shit show’ across the arts landscape. Multiple organisations have been defunded or have yet again felt dismissed or declined – CNZ’s latest decisions have left some pissed off people in its wake.

If I’m honest - I’ve been one of the pissed off minions who feels continuously shafted, disappointed and angry.

Our three largest Fringe Festivals, including Tāmaki, were declined funding this year. The impacts for Auckland and my team have been brutal. Yes, we push through and deliver the best we can but with minimal capacity, lower resources and higher anxieity levels.

Have we been successful in previous rounds? Yes, but when in service of a full region of creatives with a platform that literally speaks for itself, a full year of ‘no’ can feel - and be - debilitating.

So I get it - I 100% get the fury.

In saying that (and not having ample chance to kanohi ki te kanohi), after reading a lot of the repsponses and rhetoric online - something hasn’t sat right with me.

I’m still unravelling why something feels off in the discourse that I’m seeing but I do believe it runs deeper than this one decision.

What does that mean? I’m not sure from a collective perspective but I do have a few whakaaro and questions of my own;

  1. Where have all these incredulous voices (who are now trying to rally ‘sector’ support) been when the decision making didn’t affect them directly? Silent.
  2. It’s not OK to denigrate other organisations funding wins because you believe you have been hard done by. We have Māori organisations who have been funded properly for the FIRST TIME EVER in this round, organisations who have been battling to be seen and supported for decades. Dont be a racist dick about it.
  3. These systems have been fraught with inequity for decades. This is not a new revelation.
  4. The systems are not broken. They serve exactly what they were set up to do.  Service a very narrow, archaic idea of what ‘art’ should be and what culture is. The staus quo needs shifting and has needed formal and transparent inquiries for a long time.
  5. How all these funding decisions and community comms have been dealt with has played havoc with the mental health, resilience and sustainability of our creative sector. In fact, all aspects of our sector’s wellbeing are severly impacted. Economical wellbeing, community and racial equity - it creates a trickle down effect and impacts the wholeness of every one of us.

No more buzz words

CNZ say wellness, resilience and sustaibnability are an essential part of their remit.

Regardless of intentions, the actions tell us a different story.

As a leader that brokers both the Hauora/Mental Health and Arts and Culture sector, I have another concern;

In their Statement of Intent 2022-2026, one of CNZ’s strategic outcomes isWellbeing – by embedding a recognition of the role of the arts and ngā toi in contributing to the wellbeing of New Zealanders.”

In itself, this statement is problematic. There is no commitment to wellness in the language used here.

“…embedding a recognition…”, what does that even mean? “…contributing to the wellbeing of all New Zealanders…”. Where is the implicit drive to care for and deliver process that doesn’t only view our creatives as an enabling tool?

If we are to be enablers, surely it makes sense to first invest in our peoples wellness directly and create a trickle-down effect with tangible support process and resource.

Hauora, wellness and “holistic approach” should no longer be used as buzz words – good wellness and mental health practice is not merely a fluffy “holistic approach”, but a necessity we have to action in tangible ways.

Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho. Photo: Supplied.

This might seem like we’re going off on a tangent - but the impacts of the past few weeks have been detrimental to the wellness of everyone involved. Not only the handling of the announcements but also how it caused the sector to respond reactively.

It has caused division, anxiety, major stress, racist vitriol and has caused some people to literally give up on the sector and leave the arts sector for good.

In all honesty - I was almost one of those people myself.

Good people who have dedicated their life works to uplifting and working for arts communities are choosing to leave because the stress of continuous decline has taken its toll.

It’s just not good enough.

The wero

CNZ is at the forefront of funding leadership for the independent sector. They are the pinnacle for most independent artists and organisations, therefore they have a responsibility to be aware of the impact their processes have on ALL our people.

Be aware and adapt accordingly.

Funders need to address the counterproductive implementation of their communication tools. As an example, CNZ funding portals have incredibly triggering components and (proport to have) overall wrap-around services, but in the eyes of so many in the sector, those are non-existent.

There is a serious disconnect between high level, research advocacy spaces and the independent, grassroots members of our sector.

Intentions are not enough. Continuous written surveys targeted at only a small section of our sector, analytics and evidence (alone) is not effective or tangible hauora advocacy.

It’s not what people need.

People have continuously voiced needs time and time again. Its time to listen and take action. Stop asking for creative community feedback, change the narrative to fit an internal initiative and turn it into something nobody asked for.

Be braver.

Our voices are vital within the funding space. We need for funders and lead organisations to listen and make action. We need better hauora support and intervention.

Molly Mullen (below), a researcher at Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland, has been researching the arts funding landscape and the challenges it creates, particularly for community-based artists and arts organisations.

She comments, “through the pandemic, arts funders have started to put more emphasis on the relationship between arts and wellbeing, but very little has been done to change the longstanding aspects of the funding context that go against what is known about good practice in arts, health and wellbeing.

“So, what we see in our research are the many ways the funding system undermines the potential of the arts to contribute to the different dimensions of wellbeing (to use the language of the Living Standards Framework). Also, changes made to the Arts Grants over the past two years or so have adversely affected individual and collective wellbeing across the arts sector.”

It’s time that more than the bare minimum is done.

Mental Health Awareness Week is not the only time attention should be given to these needs. It can’t be used so our lead organisations can pat themselves on the back and tick visible boxes because they’ve had a panel, written some articles and have connected with the Mental Health Foundation.

From an arts and wellness brokers perspective, dealing with CNZ has been exhausting. Having to constantly validate why the mahi we do - the mental health and overall wellness support for creatives - is necessary and describe the benefits of our initiatives to the resilience and sustainability of our sector is frankly ironic in the current state.

Are there tangible solutions? It’s a difficult one because there’s an imbalance.

The money available is just simply not enough to support everyone in the funding models that exist and that kōrero is frankly larger than this one whakaaro. In saying that, now might be a good time to ‘calm my farm’, and koha a tangible wellness opportunity.

Whāriki Hauora

Five years ago, my company Taurima Vibes partnered with mental health organisations Changing Minds and Mind and Body to create a Peer Support service initiative we named Whāriki Hauora.

The initiative was seeded from a sector hui we had at the newly formed Te Pou Theatre and - while still unfunded - has grown in to a fully formed, subsidised opportunity and alternative to counselling (special shoutout to the incomparable Whetu Silver who co-facilitated and bought the name to life).

Whāriki Hauora is available and open to ANYONE in the creative sector. In person if you’re in Tāmaki Makaurau - Auckland or Ōtautahi Christchurch, or online if you’re anywhere else in the country.

The below explainer video has all the information needed.

In my mind, peer Support would be a perfect wrap around service for CNZ to employ to fix the gap that exists between their advisors and the sector.

Taimi Allan - Tumu Whakarae of Ember Innovations, Director of Tigerstew Productions and appointed to Te Hiringa Mahara (the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission of Aotearoa) - was part of the original whānau for Whāriki Hauora.

She straddles the arts, health and wellbeing and innovation sectors and offers “programmes like Whāriki Hauora are the epitome of community-led innovation. Over the past 7 years, it has proven a life-saver for many people within the arts sector because it’s fast, essentially free and anonymous support.

“It is inconceivable that such a proven programme - designed by the community it serves, not-for-profit, open to all, completely independent of any controlling system or organisation and vitally important to the wellbeing of the people who keep their sector alive - has not been picked up and sustainably funded as an essential service for the sector.

*CNZ, Venues, membership organisations and larger productions have the opportunity - with very little financial impact to their profit-line - to get kudos for supporting the wellbeing of all the people who keep them in business.

“If they all committed to take only a tiny percent of ticket sales, memberships or venue bookings to support programmes like Whāriki Hauora, they would ensure indefinitely support is there for Tangata Toi Ora when they need it.”

Taimi Allan. Photo: Supplied.

She adds “ as someone who has been fortunate enough to work in both the arts and health sectors, I was always frustrated that anything that addressed Mental Health and Wellbeing through the vehicle of the arts seemed to fit into ‘everyone else’s’ funding box.

“Arts funding seem to think it should be funded by health, and health funders think it should be funded by the Arts.

“So in the end the projects, programmes and productions - that evidence shows has the most predictable and positive effect on changing societal behaviours, attitudes and values around wellbeing - go largely unfunded.

“No other discipline has a greater power to change systems and have people remember a message than the arts - and to not look after the people who have the ability to change the world is akin to arts-funders shooting themselves in the foot.”

Dire consequences

Ultimately our funders need to do better. Communicate, be more transparent, HAVE wrap around services. invest in people who are doing the job effectively, tools that are actionable and are for the people - by the people.

The loud and privileged need to address their own biases before grabbing their pitchforks and stirring up the villagers; and our lead organisations need to attend to their own backyards, examine and address their own unhelpful infrastructures.

If we don’t begin to view Hauora/wellness needs as a neccessity rather a recognition or holistic approach, things won’t change.

Anxieties will continue to rise, derision will be at the forefront and we will continue to lose people. They will walk away from this sector or even make decisions that have devastating and irreparable impact, leaving lives and communities shattered.

These extreme consequences may not be a sector ‘fault’, but it is a truth and it certainly means we have a responsibility to make sure it doesn’t continue to happen.

 

If you would like to support Whāriki Hauora with their fundraising efforts or make a contribution, all kōrero to find alternative ways to help keep this koha sustainable and available are welcomed – click here for details.

 

Written by

Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho

13 Oct 2022