This is the first in our series of events on self care for artists, held in September 2019. To stay up to date on future events and to attend, sign up to our mailing list and become a Hub member. It’s free. Got a suggestion or feedback on this event? Leave it in the comments.
Self care is a never ending topic of discussion for artists, particularly for those that are working in the wellbeing field. Many of us are working in the socially engaged field and working with vulnerable groups. Burnout, feelings of inadequacy, the lack of training and isolation are common themes that are becoming more and more prominent through the Hub’s research and events. As social prescribing becomes a more formalised concept, the reality of artists wanting and needing to work with many different types of vulnerable groups and communities, often without training and/or appropriate support, has become a concern for artists and organisations. How do organisations adequately make sure their artists are equipped to work with certain groups? How do artists speak up about their needs in order to work with vulnerable community groups? How do artists with (relevant) lived experience access support when it’s needed? Nicola Naismith’s recent report Artists’ Practising Well is a great resource on this subject matter.
These are complicated questions that won’t find a definitive answer any time soon. Through the Arts & Health Hub we hope to provide a lateral learning platform for participants to share projects, ideas and challenges that may highlight and address some of these concerns. A huge number of our artists are not only making work related to their own health, but working as facilitators in a variety of environments engaging people in creative activities for positive wellbeing. It makes sense that a large number of our attendees that are working within socially engaged arts are doing it because of their lived experience, which is often an enormous asset. In the first of our Self Care events, we troubleshot some of the concerns and difficulties related to self care as an artist working in this field. We also pooled together ideas, suggestions and resources to help support one another in developing a better self-care regime.
Our topics of discussion were divided into 4 sections related to self care:
- Emotional & Physical
What challenges do we all face in terms of our social connections?
- Feeling isolated and often working alone.
- Social media causing feelings of competition, not doing enough or not being good enough. Making comparisons to others.
- The pressure to be smiley, friendly, and not acknowledging how we really feel.
- The need for silence and alone time, but finding the boundaries between isolation and positive time alone.
How could we improve some of these difficulties? These were some of the suggestions pooled from the group.
- The importance of meeting with other people, in-person, seemed of great importance, whether that be for work or pleasure. People commented that this felt more nourishing than online interactions (although there was value in social media). These in person interactions could involve:
- Spending time with non-artist friends and family doing things completely unrelated to work or art (eating food, spending quality time together, walking, traveling, going to gigs).
- Developing new friendships with other artists who share a similar passion. Learning how to ask others would you like to hang out.
- Attending events such as the peer group, connecting with other people in an environment that isn’t seen as “networking” (which most people felt put a lot of pressure on them and disliked).
- Trying something new (a different activity, not necessarily work related)
- The importance of laughter.
- Diarising time for seeing friends and family. Making an active commitment to blocking out chunks of time to see others and not work.
When we talked about intellectual self care, this related to engaging in critical thinking about our work, career development and developing our creative pursuits. A lot of these complexities were around continuing to learn but in a way that reduced isolation and felt supported by others. Suggestions from the group were:
- Attending peer-to-peer groups to get support from others and learn about other practices, including best practices. Developing informal peer-to-peer networks/groups (even through WhatsApp to share resources etc).
- Engaging in a mentorship. Reaching out to people whose career paths you admire and asking if you can spend time with them, or if they have time to support you in your professional development (either in person or by e-mail etc).
- Asking questions those around you. Being curious with colleagues, asking for support from people that you work with (but perhaps are from a different field).
- Making sure you receive information relevant to your practice: newsletters such as London Arts in Health Forum, Culture Health & Wellbeing Alliance, Kings Fund etc.
- Taking courses. FutureLearn was mentioned as a resource for free courses from top universities.
Emotional & Physical
This was by far the biggest concern from most of the people in the room. How do we reconcile with the immense pleasure that our practice gives us, but also recognise elements of burnout, compassion fatigue and boundaries. Some of the raised concerns were:
- Recognising the limitations of what we can do.
- Becoming overwhelmed by the projects that we work on and the people that we work with (and the guilt that brings).
- Not feeling emotionally competent to do the work we do because there is no one to teach us how to manage our feelings in these roles.
- How to be authentic and present in our work when we also find it troubling or triggering for our own mental health.
Helpful suggestions from the group included:
- Setting structure and boundaries in our practice. This can be as simple as not working after certain hours or on weekends.
- Learning to say no and valuing our integrity. Saying no could be because a job is not right for you (in which case it may be doing a disservice to the people we work with), or about recognising your limits and not being able to take any more work on. It could also be about valuing yourself financially and politely declining work that devalues you.
- Paying for therapy (where possible). This is of course a tricky matter as not everyone has access to this financially.
- Developing an accessibility criteria for people to work with you. This could include acknowledging the need for additional breaks, flexible working hours, overnight accommodation etc. Acknowledging our needs (they are not wants, they’re needs). Advocating for what you need and reframing it from ‘I want’ to ‘I need’ in order to do your job to the best of your ability.
- Creating space for ourselves to engage in activities that are not work related: yoga, walking, engaging in culture, reading, mindfulness, swimming, meditation, a healthy amount of sleep, listening to or playing music etc. Looking at this as an integral practice that needs upkeep — not a luxury.
- Limiting screen time, particularly social media. Reminding ourselves that social media isn’t ‘real’.
- Listening to our bodies and recognising when something isn’t right — tapping into our innate knowledge and resources. Trusting our intuition
In our professional environments what challenges might we face, and what can we do to improve our working conditions and subsequently our own wellbeing? Some of the concerns were:
- Feeling unsupported. This could be not receiving adequate training, briefing/debrief times or not working within a team.
- Inadequate pay (or no pay in some cases).
- Not receiving recognition for work done.
- Difficulties negotiating with employers (in terms of pay, but also individualised needs).
- Working in an environment where there is no clear definition of what is required.
- Lone working and isolation.
- A lack of reflective practice.
As a group we pooled together some of the following suggestions but recognised that it can be hard to put these into place if we don’t feel able to assert our needs:
- Asking for supervision. Dependent on the role and who we are working with, asking for an adequate level of support. Whether this is formal supervision to discuss how the work if impacting you, to requesting embedded time to debrief with other colleagues after a particular session. Support as a freelancer is a huge issue and a number of people commented on the need for greater support.
- Understanding your own financial value. Using guidance documents with employers to outline why a rate of pay is unacceptable and suggesting what you should be paid given your experience. Resources such as Artists Union England Rates of Pay can be helpful.
- If working alone, seeking out other lone workers/freelancers and developing a network to work together. This could either be regularly at each other’s homes or in local cafes.
- Seeking out reflective practice groups to help with feelings of isolation. Flourishing Lives are beginning to run cost-effective reflective practice groups.
- Developing support networks to share queries and get advice on particular advice as a freelancer.
- Ensuring that work is contracted, not verbal, to avoid any quibbling over pay and expectations.
The group covered a lot in our short two hour workshop. Throughout the event there was a real sense of camaraderie and sharing the complexities we face without any shame. A core part of the Hub’s ethos is to connect artists from all different backgrounds, experiences and stages in their careers.