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9 Feb 2023

2023 - Creativity and Meaning in a New Year

By Dr Jeremy Mayall
Creative Waikato, CEO

It is hard to believe we are already one month into 2023. The passing of one calendar year into the next is often a time for reflection. A time to look back at the previous year and see what happened, whilst also setting intentions for what might lie ahead.

This time last year I wrote:

“Change and interruption has been a defining feature of the past two years. There are things that we have grown used to, and there are things that we have grown tired of.”

It is quite interesting to reflect one year later on how that opening sentence still feels like it rings true. Change and interruption continued through the year, and this year has started with that yet again. We still have to think about words like ‘pivot’, ‘unprecedented’, and ‘resilience’. But I find myself wondering if we can collectively choose some other words to focus on. Words like kindness, space, connection, and hope. These words feel important right now.

As we move forward it seems important to hold on to a radical sense of hope for how arts, culture and creativity should be a part of each of our everyday lives. How it can be woven through all facets of our lives, and inspire playful connections for ourselves and those around us. I know that in my own life regular creative activity helps me to find balance and make sense of things. As an organisation we encourage the collective celebration of the value that arts, culture and creativity bring to all our lives in our communities. There is such power in relishing the process of creativity and how that contributes to individual and collective wellbeing.

Creative Waikato remains true to our vision for a Waikato Region that thrives with diverse and transformative creativity. This vision informs all the work we have been doing and the work we intend to explore in 2023. This vision is one where we have communities electrified with the sharing of stories. A future Waikato where around every corner there is thriving creative activity that is accessible, diverse, and connects people together. A place where we each engage with meaningful creative activity each day. In this place there are more opportunities for each of us to experience and engage in art in all its forms that helps us rewire how we see the world. These kinds of actions empower us to embrace change, to grow and adapt. To make us feel things deeply and connect with the people around us.

If you are in the process of still setting goals or resolutions for the year – perhaps consider setting one to make daily creative activity part of your life. This might take the form of individual activity in any artform, contribution to local arts groups, or regularly being part of audiences throughout the region. This could make a positive difference in your life.

Art, culture and creativity are a sign of vitality in our society. They are the reason we move beyond just existing. They are the joy, the curiosity, the imaginative thought that encourages us to truly live rather than simply being productive parts of an economic machine. Life can be about curiosity and exploration and connection and community.

In an article by Arthur C Brooks, he talks about reframing our understanding of art, culture and creativity as being human habit. He said:

Too often, we let the humdrum reality of life get in the way of the arts, which can feel frivolous by comparison. But this is a mistake. The arts are the opposite of a diversion from reality; they might just be the most realistic glimpse we ever get into the nature and meaning of life. And if you make time for consuming and producing art—the same way you make time for work and exercise and family commitments—you’ll find your life getting fuller and happier.

To me, this means seeing the way we choose to engage with art, culture and creativity as being more like sleep or active recreation – just one of those things we do to stay fully functioning and healthy human beings. It is a way to expand our perception from the narrow focus of everyday routine; to help us solve problems; to engage with the world, with universal ideas, to widen our vision – all these things are proven to lower stress. Art as an awakening rather than a narcotic.

As we look for meaning in our lives, and look for solutions to modern problems, there are many things to consider, and it seems clear that creativity is definitely part of the solution. Engagement with arts, culture and creativity has the power to change our brain function, and contribute positively to our mental health and physical wellbeing. If you look at the broad range of activities that already take place throughout our communities we can see this magic happening all around us. Making time to notice those things can bring a refreshing energy to our day.

I can recall many examples in my own life of how creative activity has served to embody ephemeral and powerful things like joy, awe, wonder, kindness and collective transcendence. These things are moments that can serve as an antidote to stress and anxiety. It can take many forms, and each creative experience will resonate differently with each person, but there is wonder to be found in the journey of finding creativity that resonates with you – whatever form it takes.
So, it seems to me that by engaging regularly with the creative experiences that resonate most with you, you are actually actively lowering stress baselines, and ultimately increasing your quality and longevity of life. This feels like a great focus for 2023.

Time for creativity.
Time for connection.
Time for community.

To finish, I would like to celebrate a range of awesome things that happened last year in our mahi at Creative Waikato. Things that had us connect with people, share ideas, and collectively take steps towards our vision. Those things include:

  • The Wellbeing and Arts, Culture and Creativity in the Waikato report – a report that looks at the connections between creative activity and wellbeing in the lives of people in the Waikato
  • Whiria te Tāngata – our multi-community artist-in-residence project that explores guaranteed income as a pathway to supporting creative activities in diverse communities.
  • Our new website – collating all the information, resources and details in a fresh new format.
  • The Integrated Creativity Resource – a set of activities for teachers to use in classrooms to inspire tamariki through creativity to engage with all the subjects of the NZ Curriculum.
  • The Audience Development Toolkit – a set of resources that help community organisations and artists to understand how to strengthen their connections with their audience.
  • Creative Acts of Kindness – a collection of commissioned works from Waikato artists that celebrate kindness in our lives.
  • The ELEVATE programme – a creative careers development programme to support Waikato creatives to make the most of their mahi.
  • Our South Waikato Cultural Activator project – connecting creativity with the awesome communities of the South Waikato.

And so much more of seeing the awesome creative activity that has been taking place with community organisations and artists throughout our region over the past year – it is always inspiring to see the depth and breadth of this expression and how it resonates with so many people. Thank you all to all our creatives for all the mahi that you do throughout the Waikato!

We are excited to see how this year emerges and to continue to serve arts, culture and creativity in the Waikato. Let’s do the good things.