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Arts and Mental Health –  Ōtautahi Creative Spaces


Ōtautahi Creative Spaces was set up in Christchurch in 2015 with a goal of boosting wellbeing, social connection and resilience through creativity. The purpose was to respond to the high levels of mental illness, distress and earthquake trauma following the earthquakes by using a creative practice shaped to support vulnerable people to live full, aspirational and creative lives.

Ōtautahi Creative Spaces contracted Ihi Research and Development to undertake an evaluation of the impact of the creative spaces programme. This qualitative evaluation sought to understand the impact on participants’ lives in relation to six key outcomes. These were wellbeing, social connection, strengthened families, cultural connection, community participation and post-disaster resilience.

Twenty participants, of varying ages, ethnicity and roles and responsibilities in relation to Ōtautahi Creative Spaces were interviewed. The majority were participants at Ōtautahi Creative Spaces studio Room 5 at the Phillipstown Community Hub.

The analysis revealed the profound impact the programme had on participant wellbeing and general health. The different elements of
the programme enabled these people to develop new positive identities as practising artists and to be viewed as valued family and community members. Findings indicated the programme provided a collective art-based, strengths approach to facilitating mental and physical wellbeing.

Put simply, it was the process of being deeply engaged in creative art based practices that enabled participants to develop new mindsets, learn new skills, and have pride in accomplishing something different and challenging. The safe, inclusive, highly resourced and supportive psycho-social environment of the programme was emphasised as contributing to positive wellbeing and general health. Participant artists felt accepted and welcomed, despite their personal mental and physical health challenges. They socialised with people who were both similar, and different, to them, which extended their socialisation skills. Their art making was supervised by highly skilled and supportive practitioners who encouraged and challenged the participants to stretch their skills and knowledge; research and learn about other artists and display their work in public exhibitions.

It is important to share the impact and success of the creative spaces programme with other social agencies which are working to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of New Zealanders. The unique, creative art-based community approach provides an important and effective method to strengthening wellbeing and continuation of the programme is highly recommended.





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