by Stacy Dunn
Creative PEI recently hosted a gathering of creative workers at the Charlottetown Library Learning Centre to discuss mental well-being in the arts.
The conference theme centered around a survey recently released by Creative PEI on the mental well-being of creative workers. This initiative was supported in part by the PEI Alliance of Mental Well-Being.
Mark Sandiford, Executive Director of Creative PEI, moderated a panel that included a singer/songwriter, psychologist, and an arts educator.
Eryn Foster is an educator, interdisciplinary artist, and independent arts worker based in Halifax. She teaches a professional practices class at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) where she includes the subject of artists’ wellness.
Erin spoke about her work with Virtual Arts Nova Scotia (VANS) on its Artists in Mind project in 2021.
“We did multi-pronged research to get a real sense of what was going on across the province of Nova Scotia,” she says. “The two important takeaways were the need for expanded accessible mental health services that support a diverse range of experiences and needs and greater financial support to stabilize the cultural sector at large.
“Artmaking can often become a privilege for those who have means. And when artists don’t have access to basic means (including mental health care) it affects who can be a productive member of the sector.
She says not having the stability of an affordable place to live, work, or perform negatively affects artists’ ability to move forward in their careers.
“The nature of creative work can be precarious, and arts schools area not teaching their students how to navigate the ups and downs of the precarious life they may encounter.”
“I would like to see the implementation of a benefits package for creative workers designed by the arts community, with consultation from people who have a background in designing benefit programs.”
Eryn says having more sustainable opportunities to create is important. “It helps artists feel that what they do matters in the world. It gives them confidence and helps them nurture themselves. Society needs to carve out more space to give artists a chance to contribute to the community.”
Brady Cudmore is a singer/songwriter who moved back to his hometown on PEI after spending over a decade in the entertainment industry in New York City. He says he found navigating mental health services confusing.
“New York has so many readily available options and that’s understandable, as it’s a massive city with tons of resources,” he says. “What PEI has going for it is that it’s a loving, supportive place. On PEI, it was the community, rather than the actual mental health services, that helped me.
“Thank goodness I knew someone who was able to connect me to a therapist. However, not everyone has a support system of friends and family. Many need help to find accessible mental health care services.”
Brady had performed off-Broadway and questioned what kind of actor/singer/dancer he could be when the pandemic interrupted his career prospects. He met other creative workers who also wondered who they could be if they could not create.
“If artists are not able to make that determination, we can be hard on ourselves. But our art will always be there for us to come back to. There are so many different pieces of ourselves that we can explore.”
Brady says we need to give each other credit and grace and see the innate good inside ourselves. He also thinks there should be more opportunities available to create. “I have been fortunate to grow my career. I didn’t think it would be possible five years ago. The ability to keep creating has a huge impact on our communities.”
He would also like to see more creative arts education in schools and community workshops for the general public. “We need government and experts in strategic planning to collaborate with the creative sector to develop workshops and education programs for kids.”
Raquel Hoersting is the Assistant Professor of Psychology for UPEI’s Doctor of Clinical Psychology program. Her background is in clinical and social psychology focused on culture and mental health, particularly how identity relates to culture and society.
She is also a visual artist who is originally from Brazil. She lived in other South American countries and the US before moving to PEI a few years ago from Brazil.
Raquel talked about her ‘epiphany’ after moving to PEI. “The Immigrant & Refugee Services Association was looking for newcomer artists to design a mural,” she says. “I applied to the project, and it was a life-changing experience for me and my career.”
Through the course of meeting other newcomers while working on the project, she gained new perspectives which changed the direction of her research at UPEI. Raquel added the study of the influence of creative arts on mental health and society to her portfolio.
“It was nice to meet others who were trying to navigate our new setting, but what was fantastic about our group was our artistic identity. We could connect more with each other through art than through our newcomer status.”
“Making more connections with other groups tends to have a positive effect on mental health.”
Raquel says it’s nice to see the growth of music therapy and art therapy services here, as well as organizations like STEAM PEI adding Arts into the traditional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) sector, which build on youth’s artistic, scientific and technical skills.
“The effect of adding Arts to STEM provides us different ways to think, regulate our emotions, and have hope for the future. We become more action-oriented and can tell our own stories better.”
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