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Creativity a powerful healer after trauma

The power of the creative arts to make us healthier and happier is being officially recognised with the launch of a national network today in Wellington.

Under the umbrella of the Creative Thinking Project at the University of Auckland, Te Ora Auaha: Creative Wellbeing Alliance Aotearoa will be launched by the Minister of Social Development and Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Hon Carmel Sepuloni this Wednesday 3 April.

An international expert in applied theatre and long-time proponent of the role of the arts in healing after trauma, Professor Peter O’Connor from the University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work will be attending Wednesday’s launch.

He is one of the many people and groups within the arts, health, social and education sectors who have collaborated on this initiative over the past two years, and is delighted to see it coming to fruition.

“There is overwhelming international evidence to support the idea that the arts are vital to the wellbeing of individuals, communities and countries, and Te Ora Auaha provides a platform for artists and health professionals to come together to advocate a place for the arts in healing,” he says.

And he believes there are some things only the arts can heal.

“Those deep sicknesses which impact on the body of a country: racism, terrorism, inequality. Through the process of making beautiful things, the arts remind us of the joy and wonder of being alive. I believe the last two weeks has taught us as a nation that the arts are absolutely central to any recovery.”

Professor O’Connor says using the arts in this way is well-established practice in countries like the UK, Australia and Canada, but up to now, New Zealand hasn’t had the same level of research, policy and investment in the field as its international peers.

“However, here in New Zealand there are excellent examples of the arts being used to promote wellbeing in hospitals, schools, community-based creative spaces and prisons.”

He says Te Ora Auaha provides a wonderful opportunity to work in partnership across a range of sectors, making a compelling case for arts and creativity to be recognised as an innovative, cost-effective way to enhance wellbeing.

The Alliance’s work will focus on four key areas: research and evidence, sector development, government policy and investment, and leadership. Central to this is a new website,, which will share research and resources, connect the sector, and advocate for policy change and investment.

Dr Lucy D’Aeth, health promotion specialist with the Canterbury District Health Board, agrees that the network’s launch is timely.

“In light of the events of 15 March, and given the long-standing concern about people’s wellbeing as a result of the Christchurch earthquakes, there has never been such urgency to support communities to express and heal themselves through art and creativity,” she says.

“As part of the team that set up Ōtautahi Creative Spaces, I’ve seen first-hand how creativity is transforming lives as people discover new ways to wellness. I hope Te Ora Auaha will result in everyone having equal access to choosing creativity as a pathway to healing and health.”

Minister Sepuloni says the Government is committed to ensuring all New Zealanders can access and participate in arts and cultural experiences. “This year’s wellbeing Budget sees a switch from a focus on GDP to one that puts people, the health of our environment and strong communities at the centre.

“When more New Zealanders can access and participate in a range of cultural experiences and the sector is valued, we’ll see the creative sector grow, creative people thrive and individuals becoming stronger and more resilient.”

Te Ora Auaha has been funded through the Creative Thinking Project at the University of Auckland and the Working Together More Fund, with assistance from Creative New Zealand, Arts Access Aotearoa, Australia, New Zealand and Asia Arts Therapies Association and Whitecliffe College of Art and Design.


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