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Arts can help meet challenges in health and social services

Research conducted in the UK provides evidence that participating in the arts improves quality of life, aids recovery from illness and saves money across the health and social services, says Richard Benge, Executive Director, Arts Access Aotearoa.

“This is research that applies equally to New Zealand, and can help us meet some of the very real challenges facing our health and social services,” he says. “Challenges such as our ageing population and the increase in people experiencing mental illness and distress.”

Creative Health: the arts for health and wellbeing is a 190-page report based on research commissioned by an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing in the UK. Research over two years included hundreds of interviews and dozens of case studies with patients, medical and social-work professionals, artists and arts administrators, academics, policy-makers and politicians.

A 2014 Creative New Zealand survey shows nearly 90 per cent of New Zealanders think the arts are good for us and more than 80 per cent think the arts help improve society.

In towns and cities throughout New Zealand, there are community-based art hubs – “creative spaces” – providing people with access to artistic expression (visual art, dance, drama, music making) in supportive and empowering settings.

Many of these spaces cater for mental health service users, people with intellectual or physical disabilities, or young people. Others are open to everyone and attract a cross-section of the community.

Unfortunately, Richard Benge says, most of these creative spaces in New Zealand are underfunded and under-resourced.

“This UK research is an opportunity for local and central government to recognise the role of creative spaces in our communities; fund them adequately; and enable them to continue using creativity to address the demands on our health and social services.”

Pablos Art Studios in Wellington, for example, provides free access to an art studio, materials and tutor support. The recipient of the Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award 2017, it has supported thousands of people who have experienced mental ill-health or become socially isolated.

Deidre Dahlberg, Director of Pablos, says people whose self-esteem and sense of connection have been damaged often require a bridge between the health system and their family, friends and the wider community.

“Pablos provides that bridge,” Deidre says. “People can use creativity as a means to get back out into the world, whether they have burnt out, gone through depression or are living on the street. People can leave their troubles at the door and rebuild their confidence and resilience through creative work and overcoming creative challenges.”

Stroke is New Zealand’s second biggest killer with approximately 9000 people having a stroke in this country every year – basically one an hour, every day of the year. In 2009, it was estimated that stroke costs the country an estimated $450 million every year.

The UK report highlights a music therapy project between an orchestra and a stroke service. An evaluation of the music project showed that 86% of patient participants cited relief in disability symptoms such as reduced anxiety, improved concentration, and increased confidence and morale.

In Auckland, the creative space Māpura Studios runs an art therapy programme for people who have experienced stroke. Its Director, Diana McPherson, says that hospitals deal with healing the body but when people who have had a stroke go back to their community, they’re not equipped to deal with the emotional and psychological impact.

“The programme has been running for seven years and we’ve worked with more than 100 people in that time. We’ve seen significant improvements in their confidence and ability to adjust and fit back into their changed lives.”

You can download the Creative Health: the arts for health and wellbeing online


Updated on 17th August 2017