Grassroots Hamilton organisation Arts For Health Community Trust, a creative space that nurtures mental health and wellbeing through art, has received this year's Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award
The award, worth $3000, recognises Arts For Health's impact in the community over 30 years. Its arts programmes touch the lives of diverse people: youth, hospital patients, senior citizens – in fact, anyone wanting to use creativity as a means of empowerment and wellbeing.
It is one of seven awards at Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2020 presented online (instead of live) for the first time on Tuesday by Arts Access Aotearoa.
The annual Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards are the key national awards in New Zealand celebrating the achievements of individuals and organisations providing opportunities for people with limited access to engage with the arts as artists and audience members.
They also recognise the achievements of an artist with a disability, sensory impairment or lived experience of mental illness.
Set up in 1997, Arts For Health's goal is to promote wellness through art. Everyone is welcome to use the organisation's fully equipped art studio in central Hamilton.
Many of those who use the studio are managing mental health issues, or have physical or intellectual disabilities or medical issues. Programme manager Cass Hendry says they operate an open-door policy and there are no entry criteria.
The art studio is open three days a week. It costs $5 to get access to the studio and each session includes support from an art tutor for those who want it.
Arts for Health also runs community outreach programmes such as art therapy programmes in schools and rest homes, as well as a weekly arts programme for older people in two rehabilitation wards at Waikato Hospital.
In these troubled pandemic times, the demand for Arts For Health's services has escalated. However, Arts For Health does not receive any direct government funding, and as well as relying on the support of almost 100 volunteers, it also runs an active fundraising programme.
Among its fundraising activities is a yearly arts competition as well as a popular one-day event called Arts in the Park, which is held each year at Hamilton's Norris Ward Park and provides an opportunity for local artists to display and sell their works.
Arts For Health responded to the Covid-19 lockdown by sending out art packs filled with materials such as paint, paper, pastels, pens and pencils to all its active clients – a total of 100 packs that were funded with support from the Ministry of Social Development.
When the trust ran weekly "Zui" (Zoom meetings) for its artists during lockdown, the participants were much more interested in talking to each other than in talking to the staff – and that made Hendry very happy.
"Everything we do is about relationship building so we really liked the fact that once they'd said 'hi' to us they just wanted to talk to each other," she says.
"One of our greatest strengths is that we help people connect, firstly with each other, with like-minded people, and then going out and starting to connect with the wider community."
For Hendry, who is a trained art therapist, one of the biggest rewards of working for Arts For Health is seeing the huge changes that being involved in the creative arts can make.
She says for the artists it's a chance to build relationships, develop confidence and gain a sense of purpose.
"Some people are already really accomplished artists while others are just learning, but it doesn't matter – it's about inclusion and accessibility."
In some cases, being involved with Art For Health can be transformational. Just one of many examples: one woman, when she first started going to the studio, sat on her own with her head down, drawing with only a pencil and paper and refusing to be photographed.
"Last week she let us take her photo. She looked straight at the camera, her artwork was lots and lots of different colours, and she was sitting in a big group with everyone else," Hendry says.
"That was quite an achievement for her."
In their comments on the award, the judging panel said: "Arts For Health is an outstanding grassroots creative space, run largely by committed volunteers, and has had a huge impact over 30 years. The breadth of its reach and art forms is impressive as it touches the lives of people in its communities."