Last week I shared a post for mental health week asking about how we are doing as a sector when it comes to building a culture of positive workplace mental health. This has opened my eyes to the burgeoning critical mass of conversations happening on this topic, in particular, artists and culture workers who are openly sharing their experience with mental illness and how we can build better environments of care and support to create the space needed for mental wellbeing. This conversation is an urgent one in the arts and culture sector given that research tells us that mental illness affects artists at a much higher rate than the general population. A 2012 study found that creative people are twice as likely to be treated for mental illness than the rest of the population. When you look at those stats alongside the fact that47% of Ontario artists are self-employed (compared with 10% of the overall labour force) and facing challenges with inadequate or fluctuating income and benefits, the additional layer of workplace precarity is extra cause for concern. There can be be less of a safety net to fall into if you are an artist living with a mental illness.
This past weekend, Intermission Magazine published anincredibly insightful piece by the actor Nathan Carroll reflecting upon his own experience managing mental illness in the context of his work in the theatre. He explores the supports available to him and his fellow performing arts colleagues (Equity, AFC) and identifies where there continue to be major gaps such as the absence of a comprehensive strategy to address mental health and trauma in the sector. It is well worth the read.
Just yesterday I listened to a moving acceptance speech by Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award winner Jiv Parasram, Artistic Producer at Pandemic Theatre & Associate Artistic Theatre Producer at Theatre Pass Muraille. In it he captured all the complex beauty and tensions that exist in being a displaced artist living and working in T’karon:to (Toronto) and clearly put himself out there as a “Mad” artist. It was both refreshing and hopeful to hear an artist both name and embrace this part of their identity so publicly.
I am so grateful to those increasing numbers of artists and cultural workers who are naming their struggles with mental illness. It is through open dialogue that we can begin to get a fulsome understanding of the issue and begin to create strong systems of support for mental wellbeing in the arts and culture sector. Looking forward to continuing the conversation at Workman Arts #BigFeels symposium May 28th-30th.