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9 November 2021

Creatively Minded and Practising Well

David Cutler
Over the last 18 months, we have been looking at the issue of artists' mental health and what we can do to support the artists we fund through our work. David Cutler sets out where we have got to.

When I was researching our new programme the topic that came up most often in discussion with artists was the impact that this work could have on a practitioner’s own wellbeing. There didn’t seem to be any common language around this issue. Often people would refer to ‘self-care’ which could cover a range of things or ‘support and supervision’. But what was clear was that this is fundamentally important and we have continued to investigate and consider this issue. This started with a blog by my colleague Harriet Lowe here.

I would like to use this blog to say briefly where we have got to.

The Baring Foundation is focused on a rather specific field of work with people with mental health problems, but to put this in context there are also wider issues. Firstly, a much broader set of community or participatory artists, for instance those working in prisons, or with homeless people, survivors of domestic abuse or racial violence, or refugees and asylum seekers among others, can have very similar concerns about their work and their wellbeing. Beyond this is the even broader issue of the mental health of any artist, especially freelancers with precarious incomes. The results of a 2018 survey across Ireland by a mental health charity were really worrying and have led to initiatives by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Returning to the narrower remit of creative practitioners working with people with mental health problems, there is an increasing amount of activity here. Some of a number of examples that could be cited include:

Many people reading this blog will be aware that this area has probably been best conceptualised by Nicola Naismith in her report Artists Practising Well. She focuses on the ‘emotional labour’ of this work and the need for ‘affective support’ which addresses feelings and emotions. She helpfully concentrates on two aspects of this. The first is the conversation between an arts organisation and an artist asking what support they need and the second is the menu of what can be offered. She is further developing this work with another report imminent. It is also very relevant to the upcoming research we have commissioned from the Culture Health & Wellbeing Alliance on the components of sustainable practice in arts and mental health.

What have we concluded?

  1. There is a need for more clarity about the menu of support that should be on offer to artists and under what circumstances, for example, group or individual support and the involvement of therapists and counsellors in delivering work. Fortunately, this is already underway.
  2. We see the support and supervision of artists, including affective support, as good practice. We will ask arts organisations applying to us how they are delivering this, and we will pay any reasonable charge for meeting it as part of our grantmaking. It is important that freelance artists are included in this and their involvement is paid for.
  3. This issue needs to be considered by other arts funders and we will be raising it for discussion with colleagues.

Feature photo: Kazzum Arts