The real value of art

Published by Philanthropy New Zealand, Philanthropy News, Issue #72, December 2017.

Installation view of Tiffany Singh's Fly Me Up to Where You Are, 2016 New Zealand Festival.

Building stronger communities and improving well-being through arts funding.

You won’t find many in the philanthropy and not-for-profit sector who would disagree that art and creativity are fundamental in building a healthier society. In fact, across society this view is supported, and here in Aotearoa New Zealand research from Creative New Zealand (2014) shows 82% believe that the arts help improve society; 86% say they learn about different cultures through the arts; 88% that the arts are good for you; 90% of New Zealanders are engaging in the arts and 74% of New Zealanders believe art contributes positively to our economy. Further afield, the Community Development Investment Review (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco) has demonstrated that creativity can encourage civic engagement, build resiliency and contribute to quality of life. More and more studies are highlighting the positive outcomes that art and creativity can have on community and well-being.

It’s heartening to see that artists and art groups across the country who focus on such outcomes are getting support from those who recognise that the value of art is well beyond a price tag and that engagement with art and artmaking processes is vital in achieving them.

And it’s even more heartening to see that many artists and art projects are funded in part or fully by Philanthropy New Zealand members. In this article, we highlight two examples of arts funding that are making a positive impact.

Arts Foundation Art Awards

Since 2000, the Arts Foundation has donated over $6 million to New Zealand artists through nostrings-attached monetary awards. The recipients represent a broad spectrum of artistic practices: classical music, popular music, film, theatre, contemporary dance, poetry, photography and illustration.

Artists do not apply for the awards, they are selected by a panel independent of Arts Foundation staff and governance. The recipients are then called out of the blue with the news they have been selected.

“The purpose of the Arts Awards is to assist artists to continue their extraordinary practice to create experiences for us to share and to celebrate artistic achievement in front of the nation,” says Arts Foundation Executive Director, Simon Bowden.

“The Foundation is also increasingly recognising the instrumental value of the arts in society and the role artists are playing in health and well-being, community and social development, political and economic development, entrepreneurial endeavour, scientific discovery and other frontiers that make the world a better place.”

Simon says that in his role he has been fortunate to witness the artist’s creative process and achievements which has provided him “with firsthand experience of how the arts work on many levels in society and are often actively engaged with big issues of our time.”

One example is interdisciplinary artist Tiffany Singh, who received an Arts Foundation New Generation Award (a gift of $25,000) at this year’s ceremony. Tiffany often refers to her work as ‘a tool for social change’.

Her practice explores the relationship between engagement in arts, culture and subjective well-being. One of her works, Fly Me Up to Where You Are is a high-engagement project which took her into low decile schools across New Zealand. She worked with students to take their ideas, hopes and dreams for the future and turn them into visual language. She assisted the children to transfer their statements to 15,000 Tibetan flags. The flags were flown in groups around the country, and then finally all together in Wellington for the New Zealand Festival. The project received an award in 2013 from the Human Rights Commission for bringing together diverse communities.

“It was a transformational work across education, open discussion, well-being and community integration,” says Simon, “the collaborative process connected participants with their ability to be creative, an essential outcome for learning.”

And it appears there will be many more transformational works to come from Tiffany’s practice. In recognition of the Arts Award, she told media, “This will allow me to focus on my major inquiry into the relationship between arts, health and well-being.”

Rātā Foundation and SCAPE Public Art

Art bringing communities together and building resilience has been witnessed on a big scale in postquake Christchurch, and it is a move that Christchurch-based Rātā Foundation wholly supports.

One of the projects they’ve long supported is SCAPE Public Art which, for 19 years, has been instrumental in strengthening community and cultural engagement through the installation of world-class contemporary artwork across the urban centre. It also runs an arts programme every spring which includes talks, education workshops and walking tours. In the more recent, post-quake times, SCAPE’s installations and programmes have played a big part in bringing confidence, culture and vibrancy back into the city centre.

“SCAPE is among the arts initiatives we’ve funded that have significantly aided the re-build of the City’s social and cultural fabric as well as acting as a signal that the City was back up and running,” says Leighton Evans, Chief Executive of the Rātā Foundation, which funded over $1.7 million to arts and heritage in the last financial year.

The Foundation, which supports SCAPE annually in its funding round has focussed its support on capacity and capability building to help creativity and communities thrive. And when you refer to the art organisation’s signature, Ka tipu te whaihanga / Creativity will strengthen, it is a mantra that this longrunning programme has promised and delivered.

SCAPE’s Executive Director Deborah McCormick says, “Rātā Foundation’s funding has enabled us to undertake projects we believe are genuinely strengthening communities. A great example is ‘ARE PASIFIKA (House Pasifika), a community collaborative arts project which was part of SCAPE Season 2017 Time in Space (territories and flow).”

The community project included workshops and activities including making Lei and body adornment, as well as experimental theatre, performance, Polynesian drumming, and a tour with organiser and artist Nina Oberg Humphries through the Arts Centre, Canterbury Museum and Christchurch Art Gallery, in which the history and presence of Pacific Island culture was explored.

“Over the six-week season, ‘ARE PASIFIKA encouraged Pasifika communities and others to return to the central city, sharing the knowledge and experience of their cultures and history, and strengthening their identity and sense of belonging in Ōtautahi Christchurch,” says Deborah.

“‘ARE PASIFIKA encouraged Pasifika communities and others to return to the central city, sharing the knowledge and experience of their cultures and history, and strengthening their identity and sense of belonging in Ōtautahi-Christchurch.”

Reflecting on the season, Deborah said that the workshops and other activities in the Arts Centre, SCAPE’s Learning Zone and various central city locations (supported by Rātā and others) enabled thousands of children and adults to participate in this year’s programme.

Leighton says the Foundation’s decision to fund such arts initiatives is based on decades of research that points to the powerful contribution of arts to our health and well-being.

“The arts can keep us well, aid recovery and support longer lives. We are seeing this among the groups we fund, in the area of arts education, evidence emerging that suggests arts have an impact on everything, from overall academic achievement to social and emotional development and so much more.”

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