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Nourishing the art of empathy

A determined group of Auckland artists is gathering artwork to raise funds for a unique anti-bullying programme run in schools throughout New Zealand.

Art for Change is holding an exhibition to support the not-for-profit Roots of Empathy, whose founder, Canadian Mary Gordon, is visiting New Zealand this week.

The exhibition, Nourishing the Roots of Empathy: Towards a Non-Violent Aotearoa/New Zealand, will be held at Depot Artspace, Devonport, from September 21 until October 9.

Expressing empathy through art is an important part of the Roots of Empathy programme. A baby becomes the teacher - visiting a class regularly during the school year and helping children develop essential social skills they can share with their families and community. International research has shown a significant decrease in aggression and an increase in prosocial behaviour among children after Roots of Empathy programmes.

Some 16,000 New Zealand children have benefitted from Roots of Empathy over the past 12 years. New Zealand was the first country outside Canada to trial the programme, which is now run in 14 countries.

Art for Change ran a highly successful art exhibition for refugees two years ago. This year the collective decided Roots of Empathy needed its support - especially in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attacks, which affected so many people nationwide.

Art for Change founder Brenda Liddiard says Nourishing the Roots of Empathy is a way for artists to take positive action about social issues and create compelling art at the same time.
"We're delighted to have artwork submitted from around New Zealand, including Maori artists from the Piki Toi network in Auckland’s K Road community.”

Roots of Empathy started in a small number of NZ primary schools in 2007 in a pilot scheme initiated by then Prime Minister Helen Clark, and was hailed as a success by the Governor General. Roots of Empathy New Zealand manager Ally Fulcher says more than 35 schools are waiting to take on the programme and it needs funds to train more volunteer instructors.

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