On election night, re-elected Prime Minister John Key pledged he would lead a third-term Government "for all New Zealanders". Being inclusive is a good start. I hope this means he will lead a country that accepts and supports the diversity of all people who live in New Zealand.

Arts Access Aotearoa works with others to ensure New Zealanders in their diverse lives have access to the arts - as creators, audience members and gallery and museum visitors. The arts enrich our identity and build social cohesion. We all benefit creatively and economically.

One important group we work with are community arts organisations called creative spaces, where people with limited access can go to make art. They are places of artistic energy and learning that provide important social connection. And they include people with disabilities, sensory impairment and lived experience of mental ill-health.

In the Auckland region, there are creative spaces like Spark Centre of Creative Development, Toi Ora Live Art Trust, the Circability Trust and Ranfurly Care Society. These places provide art programmes and support that allow participants to experience social interaction, a sense of achievement and improved self-esteem.

Advertisement

The experience of Auckland artist and musician Allyson Hamblett demonstrates how important this can be for many people. Allyson, who has cerebral palsy, has been supported by Spark Centre since 2002 to develop her art practice and exhibit her work. She also works there as a media assistant.

Allyson aims to change how people view disability through her artwork. "Society holds many preconceptions about disability, based on fear of the unknown. I like challenging these misconceptions," says Allyson, who features in Arts Access Aotearoa's national 'I'm an Artist' campaign.

The Auckland component of this campaign will be launched by Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse at Studio One Toi Tu today.

Allyson and four other artists are featured in this national campaign, aimed at changing attitudes and behaviour towards people with disabilities, sensory impairment or lived experience of mental ill-health. Huge, eye-catching posters of the five artists are being pasted up in five cities (Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch and Hamilton) over five weeks.

I hope that when people look at these posters, they will see the artists' ability and aspirations ahead of any disability. Each of the featured artists' lives has been unequivocally improved because of creative spaces.

The five brave volunteers on the posters represent a startling reality that emerged from last year's Census. One in four New Zealanders (1.1 million New Zealanders or 24 per cent of the population) has a disability that affects their daily lives. How many of these people could access a place and engage in arts activities if they wanted to? Are there enough creative spaces in New Zealand to meet their needs? And how can these spaces be supported?

Current funding for creative spaces can be complex. Their managers, whose job it is to sustain the funds that support uniquely qualified tutors and a physical place from which to operate, endure a marathon of funding inconsistencies to stay afloat.

Some are funded by district health boards, others by local and district councils. Some are funded under mental health, others under social development. Some get no government funding at all. There's pressure to raise funds elsewhere from either gaming or philanthropic trusts, which are themselves under pressure.

Advertisement

Charging fees is not always an option since most of the artists are on benefits and unable to pay the full cost of using the service. As one creative space director has noted, "Disabled artists produce great art but they need great support to enable them to do so."

It's important that our community (and funding agencies) recognises that not all New Zealanders can work towards their aspirations (artistic or otherwise) without a base to provide for the unique needs that random circumstance and the effect of disability have caused.

Arts Access Aotearoa's research and regular contact with creative spaces show they are underfunded, under the radar and under-appreciated. It's time for central and local government, health and welfare agencies, along with the private sector, to step up and provide funding that's adequate, consistent and easily accessible for creative spaces.

Without them, artists like Allyson Hamblett could find it difficult to fulfil their artistic aspirations, and we would have been denied the gifts of Allyson's art and music.

Richard Benge is executive director, Arts Access Aotearoa.