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Arts for health and friendship


Hamilton charity, Arts For Health, runs creative workshops, art therapy and wellness sessions for those in need. It recently received a grant from the ANZ Staff Foundation.

For 27-year-old Kirsty Irwin, staging her first art exhibition has been a life-changing experience.


“Kirsty’s Twist on Van Gogh” is the culmination of four years’ work; helped by the tutors, volunteers and fellow artists at Hamilton’s Arts for Health Community Trust.


“I’m really proud of the work and everything I have achieved. The whole process has left me feeling much more confident,” says Kirsty.

Kirsty Irwin, at the opening of her exhibition.


“Arts For Health offers a safe and welcoming environment for people to come and create art, from absolute beginners to accomplished artists,” says programme manager Cass Hendry.


For 35 years, the community organisation has been running creative workshops, art therapy and wellness sessions for those in need.


Many of those it helps are disadvantaged due to illness, injury or disability, but the space is open to everyone, no matter their background.


“It’s for everyone – students, senior citizens or anyone with a few free hours to try something new. Some people come because they are lonely or they want to take a break from their regular responsibilities. We are here for everyone and anyone to use creativity as a means of empowerment and wellbeing.”


"Arts For Health offers a safe and welcoming environment for people to come and create art, from absolute beginners to accomplished artists."

-Cass Hendry, Arts For Health programme manager



Arts for Health likes to put fun and friendship at the heart of everything it does.


“This is a place where people can meet, bounce ideas off of each other, have fun, make some mistakes and work towards creating something really awesome with their art.” says Hendry.


One of its tutors is Rhiannon Jackson, who holds a Bachelor of Media Arts, majoring in Visual Arts.


“Being able to use my passion for art to help people grow and develop in a creative field, is extremely rewarding. Not only are the artists learning, but I am learning from them.”


“No two days are the same. The most rewarding aspect is sitting in with the artists to help them create their works.”


As the artists gain in both confidence and skill they are encouraged to push themselves.


Kirsty Irwin not only created all the paintings for her exhibition, but she also organised and promoted the event.


“I’m really grateful for all the support and encouragement I received. It means a lot of have people believe in me.”


The space in which Kirsty staged her exhibition was in part made possible by a grant from the ANZ Staff Foundation.


“It used to be a dark little corridor with cupboards” says Cass Hendry.


“The grant helped with painting, labour, installing a sound system, exhibition frames, carpets and gib. Without ANZ’s support we wouldn’t have been able to convert it into an exhibition space.”


This year the Foundation has donated $9,700 to help with specialised workshops and individual art therapy for those who would struggle to access these types of support.


“Support like this is vital to a volunteer organisation like ours,” says Hendry.


David Bricklebank, the chair of the ANZ Staff Foundation Advisory Board, believes the arts a vital part of a healthy society.


“It’s inspiring to see the art – and the friendships – that are being created by the community at Arts For Health. It’s a testament to the hard work of so many people, the artists, the tutors and everyone who has volunteered their time.”




Arts For Health also runs community outreach programmes, including art therapy classes in schools and rest homes, and at Waikato Hospital.


However Covid-19 posed a challenge for the community.


So they ran weekly “Zui” (Zoom meetings) during the lockdowns. Perhaps not surprisingly, the artists were more interested in talking to each other, than to staff.


That’s something Cass Hendry is perfectly happy with.


“That speaks to what we are really trying to do – build meaningful relationships and connect people.”


Arts For Health also sent out art packs filled with materials such as paint, paper, pastels, pens and pencils. These were funded with support from the Ministry of Social Development.Cass Hendry says that for some who attend the sessions it is their only outing each week.


“It’s rewarding to see the progress they make. In some cases, clients reach a point where they feel ready to return to paid employment or participate in volunteer work in their local community.”


“Probably our biggest strength is the people, the artists who grow personally and creatively, a team of caring art professionals, and a group of committed volunteers who give their time to make us successful” says Cass Hendry. “Without them we are nothing.”


“The team are lovely” says Kirsty Irwin. “Since I’ve started here I’ve made lots of friends and some good long term relationships.”


“It’s a place that makes me happy and has allowed me to express myself.”


You can read more about Arts for Health here.


Since its inception in 2000, the ANZ New Zealand Staff Foundation has distributed over $8 million in community grants to more than 920 charities and community projects nationwide.




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