Blog - Public art – good for our health

Three large square colourful murals in an urban walkwayHere in Christchurch, we’ve had low cloud and rain for most of December, only interspersed with one or two days of beautiful sunshine to remind us that it is summer!

So, to cheer myself up earlier this week I took myself out into town to take note of the exciting new buildings and streetscapes popping up in Christchurch and to enjoy some of the amazing murals that can be found in our city.

My favourite is the first is one that hits you as you walk out from the Lichfield Street carpark onto Plymouth Lane created by Flox.

Multi storey hotel with a large mural painted at ground level on its wallWalking closer to Cathedral Square,there is a beautiful painting of a bird on a kowhai branch, which shines out. Unfortunately this is one of those amazing pieces of artwork which will inevitably disappear when a building is completed on the side it faces onto, but in the meantime, we can enjoy it.

My yoga teacher (who has been teaching some wonderful chair yoga this last few months, more of which I will talk about in my next blog), is also a photography tour guide. She takes visitors to Christchurch to beautiful places in Canterbury and also around the city.

Two cars parked in front of a mural of a woman holding a bird in the palm of her handHer favourite mural for her tours can be found on Allen Street (running between Madras and Manchester Streets – drive from the Madras Street end to find this mural). It is also quite stunning. Let’s hope the car park remains for a long time!

Whilst most of us hopefully enjoy these murals – which have been a huge boost in many ways to our city as it rebuilds – there is research from UC Berkeley to prove that looking at things which give us pleasure, such as street art, is in fact good for our health.

Researchers have linked positive emotions – especially the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art and spirituality – with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.

According to Jennifer Stellar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study (which she conducted while at UC Berkeley), “Our findings demonstrate that positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health.”

Brightly painted mural behind a temporary building fenceWhile cytokines are necessary for herding cells to the body’s battlegrounds to fight infection, disease and trauma, sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health and such disorders as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease and clinical depression.

So, if you are lucky enough to be able to have some time off over the summer period, get out for a drive or a walk and enjoy looking at the beautiful surroundings we live in, whether it’s a stroll in the park, the hills, or further afield, or visit the centre of the city or wherever you may be visiting, and look out for new artwork on the streets or in a gallery. All this enjoyment of beautiful surroundings will decrease the cytokines and be increasing your health more than you could have imagined.

What a great way to end the year and gear up for a new one!