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Big A for arts trust

SCOTT MORGAN
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2010
ART
JASON OXENHAM
AWARD WINNING: Toi Ora Live Arts Trust general manager Erwin van Asbeck, left, and artist James King are excited about the organisation’s win at the recent Big A awards.

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FINDING creative ways of helping people affected by mental illness has earned the Toi Ora Live Arts Trust a national award.

The Grey Lynn-based trust, which provides art and music classes for those in need, was presented with the Big A Creative Space Award at Parliament earlier this week.

The awards are run by Arts Access Aotearoa, a national organisation that promotes participation in the arts.

Toi Ora general manager Erwin van Asbeck says the award is fantastic recognition of what the trust is trying to achieve.

"It adds kudos to our cause and helps promote us.

"People with mental illness need a space that's non-judgmental and meets their specific needs," he says.

The Big A awards judges say one of the main factors behind Toi Ora's win is it has the "wow factor". They say it has a strong public profile, a list of awards and achievements and offers a wide range of art forms and programmes in its new premises.

Mr van Asbeck says moving to new premises last year helped improve the organisation's visibility.

"It gives us street level access. We're trying to be responsive to what the community needs."

He says the trust, which receives funding from the Auckland District Health Board and other sources, tries to provide a normalising environment that gets people away from traditional stereotypes about mental illness.

"Society often still has the institutional concept of mental illness.

"Today younger people don't necessarily have to go through hospital to get treatment. But today's society still maybe perceives mental illness from an older mindset."

To help combat stereotypes, Toi Ora also opens its doors to other local community groups.

Artist James King, who suffers from depression, says attending classes at Toi Ora has helped him focus on something he loves.

"It's given me a place to get up and go to rather than sit down in front of the TV.

"What art does for me is gives me a mechanism to think outside the self-indulgent nature of the illness. It's mental and emotional exercise."

As a result of attending Toi Ora, Mr King has picked up a commission to paint a mural for the Waitakere City Council.

The Grey Lynn resident attends the trust four to five times a week and uses it as his primary form of treatment.

For information on the organisation visit www.toiora.org.nz.

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