Fostering hope in young arty activists 

Associate Professor Elspeth Tilley

Plenty of gnarly issues face humanity now and in the future – climate change, global terrorism, religious extremism, refugee crises, Donald Trump, to name a few. Daunting, yes. But a Massey University competition is encouraging teens to get creative in thinking how to make the world a better place.

The competition, dubbed Create1world as part of the Creative Activism and Global Citizenship Competition, is open to all Year 11 to 13 pupils in New Zealand. They have just under a month ­– including two weeks of school holidays – to hone their entries.

Hosted jointly by Massey University and the New Zealand Centre for Global Studies, the aim of the competition is to challenge teen students to make a video, write a song, create a drama or speech, or write a poem or short story about creativity and global citizenship.

Competition organiser, Associate Professor Elspeth Tilley, of Massey’s School of English and Media Studies, says, “Being a global citizen means recognising that issues like sustainability, peace, human rights, climate change, refugees, global inequality, international law or the responsibilities of multinational organisations transcend national borders and need empathetic and collaborative responses.

“The Create1world competition asks young people to suggest how artistic and creative forms (including their own art and creativity) can help create the compassionate and cooperative initiative needed for working together as a planet,” she says.

“Maybe a good shorthand for the theme of this competition is ‘one person's problem is everyone's problem’. Entries can explore a big issue or a tiny one, we don't mind, but they should show through art and creativity a way that we can connect with other humans, cross borders of any kind, and build mutual understanding.”

She says many young people care very deeply about justice, equity, sustainability, peace and other issues, and are already involved in school-based activism groups. But not so many are interested in attending political conferences to further their interests.

However, many are willing to respond or express themselves through art and performance as a way of getting involved.

She has met high school pupils who, when faced with the overwhelming problems across the planet, feel powerless to make a difference. But Dr Tilley assures them that one act of creativity can have an impact and help to foster change. “If you write one poem about something that matters to you, you can post it on Facebook, share it with others and it has the potential to affect someone else’s thinking. Art can be powerful in this way.”


Expressive Arts students at Massey University warming up before a theatre erformance on youth and depression

Creative ideas to help solve global problems

Dr Tilley experienced this recently, when her short play Flotsam (which she wrote for a global theatre activism event in the lead up to the Paris climate change talks last December) was selected for staging at ten theatres around the United States, at universities and off-Broadway in New York.

The Create1world competition theme connects directly with Massey University’s innovative Expressive Arts curriculum, in which students can study creative activism as part of a communication degree.

“We wanted to give high school students a taste of the kinds of hands-on creative action learning that is open to them through Expressive Arts. Plus, we actually know from our interactions with high school students that they are already very connected to social issues, highly creative, and we wanted to see what they could come up with.

“Far from fitting the stereotype of a disengaged generation, today’s young New Zealanders actually care passionately about the future of the planet and we know they will have amazing creative ideas about how we can all work together to save it.”

Entries can be lone voices or team efforts, she says. For instance, students could video a science or community project they are involved in at school, or interview an activist they admire.

Principal sponsor New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO has provided cash prizes totalling $2,400, with awards for first, second and third in each category. Winners will be announced at a Creative Activism and Global Citizenship conference day for youth at Massey University in Wellington on July 1. A range of other sponsors, including Weta Workshop, Lush, Whittaker’s Chocolate, Laserforce and Wholly Bagels, are supporting the conference with spot prizes.

The Create1world competition is open to all Year 11-13 students. Entries close May 2.

For more details see:

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