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Gauging the Impacts of Post-Disaster Arts and Culture Initiatives in Christchurch

A Literature Review

January 15, 202015 January 2020

Social benefits: The arts and post-crisis recovery and resettlement

New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage


Life and Vacant Spaces Charitable Trust, Christchurch

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This literature review examines the “post-disaster creative and artistic programmes in Christchurch (New Zealand) with respect to how they have impacted social, cultural, health and economic wellbeing in the community” following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, using “scholarly articles, conference proceedings, independent publications, wellbeing surveys, impact assessments and some uninterpreted raw data”. The report’s annotated bibliography highlights 35 publications related to the recovery and restoration of Christchurch.

The literature review found that the studies tend to rely on qualitative methods, such as interviews, participant observations, and theoretical analysis. Only a few studies used quantitative survey methods.

The authors caution that many of the studies did not directly evaluate how specific artistic and creative initiatives influence community wellbeing; “rather, they were often evaluating a particular arts initiative from another disciplinary perspective, with only indirect evidence that there was a positive impact on community wellbeing”. The difficulty of measuring the impacts of arts and cultural activities is identified as a key challenge related to research on the arts and post-disaster recovery.

Keeping this caution in mind, the report found that:

  • There were perceived mental health benefits for participants in post-disaster art and creative initiatives. “Traditional forms of art (for example participation in a choir or dance group) were primarily found to provide participants with mental health benefits such as reduction of stress and increased self-confidence.”
  • Some projects were found to have “fostered a sense of social cohesion and community empowerment”.
  • “Arts and culture can help preserve and/or reinvent social memory, which contributes to post-disaster resilience and urban identity.”
  • “Having a collaborative and inclusive arts infrastructure is important for full recovery.” Several of the studies noted that a healthy arts ecosystem “is one that enables both small-scale experimental initiatives and larger traditional” institutions to collaborate.

The researchers note that “the bulk of the research has been published by salaried academics or postgraduate students. Some of the most poignant research, however, has been produced by independent publishers with niche interests and/or by voluntary independent researchers not affiliated with an academic institution or cultural organisation.” The report recommends further resources be dedicated to funding and building capacity for research from outside academia to support a greater diversity of perspectives.

Contrary to the perception among some Christchurch residents that the arts and culture “are impractical or superfluous in a post-disaster context” and should therefore “be de-prioritised post-disaster”,  the authors argue that “rebuilding a city is an inherently creative process that would benefit from the perspective of artists and others who are proficient and experienced at trying new things”.

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