Using the arts and creativity to reimagine wellbeing

25 Sep 2020

This content is tagged as All Artforms .

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Michael  Moynahan
Posted by Michael Moynahan

Chairman of the Arts Council of New Zealand

Gallery visitors explore WYF: Where You From
WYF: Where You From, Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery

Living with uncertainty is a challenge we’ve all faced in 2020, requiring many of us to adopt new approaches. For many New Zealanders, this has meant reconnecting with and embracing creative pursuits as a key part of our daily lives.

Others amongst us – our artists and creative visionaries – have an exceptional ability to harness uncertainty and imagine new ways of being. By delighting, inspiring and challenging us through their work, they help us reflect on and reimagine our culture, our country and our world in a way that unites and strengthens us. 

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Reimagine Wellbeing Together, He Tirohanga Anamata. The arts and creativity make a powerful contribution to the wellbeing of individuals, communities and our society – something that benefits us all. During Mental Health Awareness Week, we can explore how the arts might help us reimagine our wellbeing and the way we live our lives.

In support of this kaupapa, lets reimagine wellbeing with those around us. How could you build creative activities into your everyday life? Who could you invite to join you? If you find yourself in need of some inspiration, try your local gallery or library as a starting point, or give yourself 30 minutes to re-connect to a creative activity you enjoy at home.

Creativity can open our minds, relax us, lift our wairua (spirit) and give us hope. If we look abroad just briefly, in the UK 20-30 percent of doctors’ visits are related to nonmedical problems, such as isolation and loneliness. Some of these patients are referred to Arts on Prescription programmes, which yield a wide range of benefits.

The World Health Organisation found that taking part in some form of arts activity helped to overcome social isolation and chronic pain; experience decreases in anxiety and depression; and improve their joint mobility, cardiovascular fitness, confidence and self-esteem. In these cases, those therapeutic qualities have a meaningful and often long-lasting impact on people’s wellbeing.

Beyond the profound benefits for individuals, the arts can make our communities better places to live. Despite usually being some of the hardest hit, our artists respond with creativity to emergencies and challenges. We’ve witnessed outpourings of everyday creativity too in times of crisis, with people turning to the arts to help them reflect, process and express. Now, during COVID-19, the arts are consoling us, bringing us together, and helping us both make sense of the world and get back up again. Why? Ka tipu te whaihanga (creativity will strengthen).

When people are empowered to use their creativity, we see transformative outcomes – making our whānau and communities stronger. Men from Christchurch Men’s Prison who took part in a programme run by Christchurch Symphony Orchestra reported greater confidence, perseverance and happiness. And in Taranaki, farmers are having a go at creating music with farm equipment as part of a new project which recognises the need “for men to come together to do something joyful, fun and creative together.”

To make a lasting change to the wellbeing of our society as a whole, we must focus on our young people. A recent report found poor mental health in our rangatahi has doubled in the past 10 years. Professor Peter O’Connor is well aware of this, and he has developed Te Rito Toi, an arts-based teaching resource that equips tamariki with the tools they need to adapt in the face of traumatic or life-changing events. The resource has been enthusiastically embraced by schools as a way to support student’s wellbeing following lockdown.

The launch of Te Rito Toi also prompted school principals to call for a return of the arts to the classroom to help students develop critical thinking, creativity, empathy and problem-solving – skills vital to our future success.

At Te Uru in Tāmaki Makaurau, Fresh One Collective’s exhibition Where You From? saw a group of young Pasifika artists reflecting on their identities and communities and creating deeply personal works – breaking down barriers around where and how they communicate their truth. Feeling connected, especially to our identities, is a key way to wellbeing.

Behind these and many examples stand innovative leaders who have used their creative skills to improve wellbeing. How do we use art to equip New Zealanders to thrive in the good times and the bad? As I said in 2019, “Just imagine: what more could we do if we put our collective minds together ... to help us better navigate these rapidly changing times; to truly make the most of what the arts and creativity have to offer us, across so many different domains.” Reimagining wellbeing together.

It is time to use the transformative power of creativity to help build a better future. Over the course of Mental Health Awareness Week, Creative New Zealand will highlight just a few of the many creative projects out there that create positive wellbeing.

The arts help us feel connected, see things from new perspectives, make sense of the world, feel good about where we live and find new inspiration.

They define who we are and how we are.

Whiria te tangata, whiria ngā toi, whiria ngā hapori
Weave the people, weave the arts, weave the community