Self-Care in the Arts

Monika Bognar

Monika Bognar, 28 March 2018

Why is it that professionals in the arts industry find prioritising self-care so difficult?

Artists, performers and arts administrators all face this problem in varying degrees throughout their careers. Financial stresses, time pressures and under resourcing in organisations are just a few of the reasons why those in the arts find it hard to take time for themselves and their wellbeing. Yet in a bizarre paradox, arts workers are acutely aware that not looking after themselves means they run the risk of completely burning out. It is an important topic gaining attention in the sector - one that’s being researched, discussed in public forums and written about in an ongoing way.  

Following the recent Making Time: Arts and Self-Care conference held by Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC), Madeline Dore published a list of 50 practical ideas to help avoid burnout in ArtsHub. The list includes everything from being playful, getting life admin in order, eating nutritionally, limiting screen time, being with nature, spending time with pets and relishing solitude, to building boundaries and saying no.

But why do arts workers find it so hard to make self-care a priority in the first place? Four common barriers to wellbeing for arts professionals were identified at a recent Creative Exchange session:

  • The feeling of having to be always on
  • The mindset that the show must go on
  • The roller-coaster of emotions (from the euphoria of winning a large grant to the crippling lows of self-doubt)
  • The inextricable link between self-worth and creative output

The four barriers above, and the tactics suggested to overcome them, are detailed in the Culture Counts March Newsletter.

Arts Centre Melbourne has formed a new consortium, ‘The Arts Wellbeing Collective’, which recognises the need to both support arts workers and involve arts organisations when seeking to affect positive cultural change and promote mental health in the workplace. Delivered in partnership with Entertainment Assist and involving 90 arts and cultural organisations, the group’s vision is to work together towards a healthy, creative, productive and supportive performing arts community. The pilot program conducted by the collective featured workshops, training and a dedicated website to share tools and strategies to help improve understanding of mental health issues, their prevention and treatment. The website is worth keeping an eye on as it features upcoming events and a selection of helpful resources that are regularly updated.

For anyone interested in learning more about this topic, here are some additional articles and recordings we have found interesting and informative.

‘I was literally tearing myself up’: can the performing arts solve its mental health crisis?
Steph Harmon, The Guardian

Mental health woes are rife in the arts – no wonder
Jennifer Andersen, The Conversation

Importance of Self-Care for Artists
Monash University of Art, Centre for Theatre and Performance

Mental Health, Self-Care, Community-Care and the Arts
Queering the Air, 3CR Community Radio

Taking care of your mental health. A guide for employees
Heads Up, The Mentally Healthy Work Place Alliance and Beyond Blue

For art’s sake, don’t sacrifice your sleep!
Richard Watts, ArtsHub 

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