02 Aug 2021

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Creativity as a driver for wellbeing

Caren Rangi, Chair of the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa took part in the cultural wellbeing plenary at the Local Government New Zealand conference. She shares some thoughts on creativity as a driver for wellbeing, and how councils can work with local arts communities.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the LGNZ conference earlier this month. As the Review into the Future for Local Government kicks off, there’s an opportunity to reimagine councils’ role in our communities. We want to make sure that arts, culture and creativity are on the agenda.

We know the power and potential of the arts to transform communities and promote wellbeing, and we want to see this potential unlocked and multiplied throughout all communities in Aotearoa.

The evidence is clear. A World Health Organisation report draws on more than 900 global studies that show how the arts benefit our health and wellbeing. Our own research backs this up. The 2020 results of our triennial New Zealanders and the Arts—Ko Aotearoa me ōna Toi research show that New Zealanders are more positive than ever about the role of the arts, and they’re helping us to get through COVID-19.

Read the WHO report - What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review (pdf 2.2 MB)

Beyond the data, the evidence is all around us. Arts and creativity are bringing communities together and telling our stories – what it means to be Māori, to be Pasifika, Asian, Pākehā, young, old, to have a disability, to identify as LGBTQIA+ – they’re helping us to express who we are.

They contribute to our health. The dance class or kapa haka group in every community hall, our libraries and our galleries keep us active and brighten our minds. In our schools, prisons and aged care facilities artists are at work, too. For many, the arts are a form of salve and salvation.

Watch Bonita Bigham – All in for Arts Taranaki (Vimeo)

The arts, as Councillor Stacey Hitchcock put it, can also be the genesis that changes a person’s trajectory. Organisations like Action Education in Auckland, who help young people find their voice through slam poetry and performance, or architecture studio Ākau in Kaikohe, who involve rangatahi in the design process of their projects, are providing that genesis and equipping our young people with the skills that they need for the future.

Watch Councillor Stacey Hitchcock – Arts for All Taranaki (Vimeo)

Arts and culture also make our towns and cities great places to live. Through our 2020 research, two in three New Zealanders told us they agree that arts and culture have a vital role to play in the future of where they live, and that it’s important that where they live is recognised as a place that supports the arts. The winner and finalists for this year’s LGNZ EXCELLENCE Award for Cultural wellbeing are good examples of how the arts can support stronger, more cohesive communities.

Our communities are changing quickly – we have ageing and increasingly diverse populations, and many regions have growing Pacific communities, Asian communities and refugee communities. Supporting the arts and culture of these communities is a tangible way for councils to show that they recognise their value and contribution. Our 2020 research found that for our Māori and Pasifika communities, ngā toi and Pacific arts are vitally important ways of connecting with their culture and identity. That’s why we’re working with Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage, to invest $12 million over three years into the Pasifika Festivals Initiative, to ensure these iconic community celebrations of Pacific cultures can continue to thrive.

To harness the potential of all this creativity to drive wellbeing, we need to listen to our communities.

The Tauranga City Commissioners understand this. More than 10 percent of the total submissions received on their long-term plan were about arts and culture, and they recently committed to $750,000 of new investment into a range of arts, culture and heritage projects.

Read the news item: Arts, culture and heritage in Tauranga receive $750,000 injection through Long-term Plan

As Commissioner Anne Tolley said, “The arts are sometimes seen as a nice to have, but we’ve seen arts and culture having a huge impact right across our communities … there are lots of advantages – the creative sector can be extremely healing.”

Listen to Anne Tolly – A boost for Tauranga’s arts sector on RNZ

We heard the same thing when we partnered with the Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi and travelled around 10 towns to gather and share stories about the impact of the arts last year. Watch the resulting videos from The Great New Zealand Arts Journey. In Ōtepoti Dunedin, Mayor Hawkins put it this way: “Art is our core business. It is a public service that cuts across everything we do … it’s also essential to our collective social wellbeing as a community and as a civilisation.”

Watch Mayor Aaron Hawkins — All in for Arts Dunedin (Vimeo)

We’re looking forward to hearing from more of you when we head back on the road this September.

If we enable creativity to thrive in our communities, we enable our communities to thrive. Creativity is absolutely a driver for wellbeing – and not just cultural wellbeing, but social, economic and environmental wellbeing.

Let’s think about how we can grow this potential so that no matter where you’re born, or where you live in Aotearoa, everyone has opportunities to experience the transformational impact of the arts on their lives.

Many councils are already doing important work with and for our arts communities. They’ve embraced what artists contribute, invested in their work, and understood their role. Their staff have worked closely with Creative New Zealand to deliver additional funding via the Creative Communities Scheme and Local Government Art Fund in the wake of COVID-19.

In the words of LGNZ Chief Executive Susan Freeman-Greene, “Our joint responsibility to local democracy means a range of things: giving people visibility, creating places where they can express what it is to be human, being better partners, seeing each other’s dreams and aspirations, courageous conversations about what is intrinsic, what we need to keep hold of and what it is time to let go of. Those things are at the heart of our communities.”

Read LGNZ CE Susan Freeman-Greene's address at LGNZ Conference 2021

Local government are key partners in our work to encourage, promote and support the arts for the benefit of all New Zealanders. We’re committed to working with them to collectively support arts and culture in our communities and harness the potential of creativity as a driver for wellbeing.

Caren Rangi 
Arts Council Chair

Watch Caren's speech at LGNZ 2021