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9 Aug 2023

Nurturing Wellbeing Through Creativity

Matamata Creatives in School

By Nick Clothier
Creative Waikato, Creative Education Specialist

Visiting Matamata Intermediate to talk to them about their 2022 journey with the Creatives in Schools kaupapa, I was struck by how well the concept of wellbeing and identity were interwoven through their mahi and its lasting impact on students, the community and the school.

The Creatives in Schools programme, delivered by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage (Te Manatū Taonga) and Creative New Zealand, is an innovative initiative aimed at promoting wellbeing. The program’s primary objective is to ensure that all participants, including teachers, students, and creatives, feel happy and content. To achieve this, the program encourages collaboration between creatives and students, creating a positive environment for everyone involved.

During my visit, I met the Lead Teacher and driving force of the project, Karen Raymond, who talked me through aspects of the application process.

Karen said that the school had applied for the 2021 tranche of Creatives in Schools and although their application was declined, they learned a lot about the feedback they received and positively impacted their application for 2022. One of the most valuable lessons that came from the feedback was to involve people with local knowledge and experience.

The concept for their 2022 Creatives in Schools application was to develop a student-centred performance based on the philosophy of Te Whare Tapa Wha, working with five members of the local group Wairere Toi. In their application they explained the project is; ‘Under the guidance of creatives, students would be able to follow their passions and strengths and opt into developing skills in an area of interest, such as set production, kapa haka, graphic programme design and art, music, drama, creative script writing, costuming, lighting, and sound. In conjunction with the production, the students would be working in their classes and whānau groups to present their inquiry learning, which would culminate in a learning celebration with the community. Students would gain insight into communication through The Arts, have practical experience in the creative process, and gain an in-depth understanding of the Whakapapa of our school.’ 

However, interrupting the project was that great determiner of life over the past three years: Covid. The decision was made to keep the central idea but to change the context to a filmed production to be shared on a community night with the broader school whānau.

I was fortunate enough to experience the end product of the school’s mahi. It was a well-produced film that was a vibrant expression of artistic flair and the school’s deeply held kaupapa. 

Central to the performance was one young man’s journey through Te Whare, imagined as four locations populated by fascinating characters who sang, danced and acted, leading the protagonist through a haerenga of personal discovery – his destination a greater understanding of his identity and place in the world. 

They lean into the idea of student wellbeing and the film showed a great deal of knowledge and appreciation of Mason Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Wha model of universal wellbeing. 

For those unfamiliar with this model, Te Whare Tapa Wha was developed by leading Māori health advocate Sir Mason Durie in 1984. The model describes health and wellbeing as a wharenui/meeting house with four walls, and when we thrive when all of these things are in balance, but when one or more of these walls are out of balance our wellbeing is impacted.

These walls represent taha wairua/spiritual wellbeing, taha hinengaro/mental and emotional wellbeing, taha tinana/physical wellbeing and taha whāFnau/family and social wellbeing. Our connection with the whenua/land forms the foundation.

After viewing the film, I met with the three actors, Micaela Evans, Grace Pilmore Evans, Bronson Edwards and local creative Te Hokioi Maipi, to learn more about their experience.

Photo supplied by Matamata Intermediate

Grace, who has performed and interacted with kapa haka since primary school, found that the development process and performing gave her a new perspective on the idea of whānau and that it doesn’t just mean members of your immediate family. 

Bronson, also a long-term participant in kapa haka, appreciated the opportunity. He exclaimed that being involved in the project was ‘Cool As!’ and enjoyed having the chance to bring his toi Māori skills to a new and interesting way of working.

While Micaela found that the need to move towards a video presentation rather than a contemporary performance changed her focus towards a  more cooperative effort and taught her new ways of working with others. She believed that it would have been quite different from having done a ‘play’ of their performance and that the new skills that she learnt from the production of the video made the process much more engaging.

Te Hokioi Maipi, one of the young creatives from Wairere Toi leading the production, came to the project with a background as an alum of A.Y.D.C. – a Hip Hop crew who attended the World Hip-Hop Dance Championships in Las Vegas in 2011. 

He saw working with the school as an opportunity to veer away from kapa haka and to present a contemporary take on the idea of wellbeing through Te Whare Tapa Whā. There was also a desire to re-engage the students after a couple of years of disruption due to the Covid pandemic and he felt it was important to everyone involved to create an intertextuality between Māori and Pakeha modes of performance.

The school is divided into four whānau groups, all involved in developing the project and creating costumes and props during the time usually spent in specialist classes (Food, Materials, Performing Arts, etc.). Debbie Currie, the Principal of Matamata Intermediate, believes that this instilled a sense of shared focus among the staff and students of the school and meant that even if the students did not end up in the performance, they felt involved in the work.

Deputy Principal Shannon Johnson is effusive in her praise for the students and the outcomes of the Creatives in Schools process. Her focus for the students in creating their performance was an honest honouring of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and views it as a celebration of diversity and acceptance. She enjoyed seeing the interdependence between the ākonga and the creatives from Wairere Toi and the pedagogical and waiora/hauora benefits of being involved in a pan-school creative enterprise.

The benefits of the school’s involvement in the Creatives in Schools Programme have been manifold. The students saw the whole school come together to develop their mahi, and all creative preferences were utilised, from the performers flexing their muscles front and centre in the video to the creation of props and costumes by those more comfortable behind the scenes. 

Shannon believes that it was vital that a Te Ao Māori approach was valuable in connecting the school to a sense of place and wellbeing. She also asserts that the collaborative approach to the process served the school.

“Parking our existing beliefs and ways of working and just going for it developed layers of trust and mahi tahi across the whole school. There was no ‘us and them’, just an adaptability and a particular focus on the end goal, especially from the team of specialist teachers who parked their curriculums to concentrate entirely upon the production of the performance.” 

Ultimately, it was all about ‘trusting the process’ and working towards a project that had both wellbeing and pedagogical benefits for the students, staff and creatives involved.

This is when the Creatives in Schools programme works best – when all participants and stakeholders work together to develop experiences for the entire community of a kura. Of course, being school based, the educational aspects of the project need to be at the very centre of the kaupapa but there are a variety of other benefits from being involved in the process. 

Team-work, hauora, identity and a developing self-confidence for ākonga are pivotal positive outcomes of the work of Creatives in Schools and these outcomes are apparent in the words of the students and the evident pride that the staff of Matamata Intermediate School have in their finished performance.