Case Study: Toi Ora Live Art Trust

Building lives and careers through creative productivity

Lives that are affected by mental illness are being rebuilt with the help of the arts and a creative, welcoming community at the Toi Ora Live Art Trust.

Tucked away in Auckland’s Grey Lynn, Toi Ora’s workshop is an unassuming space. For the people working in surrounding businesses there is little to indicate the life affirming changes that are happening for the people who take part in its many courses and workshops.

People from all walks of life come to learn, share and be socially connected. They have in common a passion for art and experience of mental illness. 

Finding the confidence to rebuild her life

Tricia first came to Toi Ora in 2000 as a 20-year-old recovering from hospitalisation due to bipolar disorder.  She had dropped out of university, moved back home to her parents and was completely unsure of herself.  She was introduced to Toi Ora through her community mental health centre.

With the help of art and writing classes, she gradually gained the confidence to rebuild her life and be creative.  She returned to part-time study and has now completed two university degrees.

Toi Ora has many success stories like Tricia’s. Others have gone on to further study and many have used their experience as a stepping stone to employment. Some accomplished artists have also emerged, like painter and poet Andrew Blythe, who has exhibited in New Zealand, Paris and New York.

The power of art and friendship

Perhaps the most important benefit is the friendship that forms amongst the people who visit Toi Ora.  These friendships provide support and social connectedness to people who often feel isolated and stigmatised by their illness.

At Toi Ora they meet others who have similar stories to theirs.  No one judges them because it’s all about the art, not illness.  With an emphasis on the creative process, people are able to be productive despite their personal challenges.  When the art comes first, it normalises their experiences at Toi Ora.

“Art is a great vehicle because it is non-confrontational, in the sense that we allow people flexibility to follow an artistic path, developing at their own pace.  But the social benefits are immediate.”  Erwin van Asbeck, Toi Ora Director

This focus on creative productivity distinguishes Toi Ora from other agencies working in mental health. By offering services to the community, the individual’s quality of life is improved, which in turn has benefits for the community.

Toi Ora provides an array of arts, creative writing, music recording classes and workshops. Participants are tutored by professional practitioners with experience and an understanding of the issues surrounding mental health.  Studio space and materials are available for people wishing to work on individual or collaborative projects and they are able to explore their creative ideas and potential in this supported environment.

Toi Ora was formed in 1995 as a charitable trust.  They have a contract with Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) and require annual philanthropic and arts funding to ensure the successful delivery of their diverse programme.  This funding enables Toi Ora to enrich the lives 200 each year living with mental illness, the benefits of which extend to the wider community.

Learn more about how the arts improves mental health outcomes and personal well-being