In a new survey, nearly three-quarters of artists in Nova Scotia reported that financial insecurity negatively affected their mental health and well-being.
The Artists in Mind report from Halifax-based artist advocacy organization Visual Arts Nova Scotia outlines the mental health challenges affecting people in the province's art sector. That includes visual media arts, crafts, theatre, music, dance and writing.
Artist Benny Welter-Nolan, executive director of Visual Arts Nova Scotia, said the group sought to delve into the mental health of artists in the province after witnessing obstacles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stress.
"We saw a lot of artists facing cancellations of their shows at their performances, a huge decline in their career income as artists, and we wanted to get a sense of how that was impacting their mental health," Welter-Nolan said.
More than 300 people surveyed
With funding in part from the Culture and Tourism Department, the initiative was launched in January 2021. More than 300 people were surveyed.
Health-care practitioners and members of artist-centred health clinics across Canada were also interviewed to get "insights into how other communities across the country are supporting artists' mental and physical health and well-being," the report reads.
One-third of respondents said long wait times created an obstacle to accessing mental support, while 24 per cent said they weren't able to find the resources they needed.
Welter-Nolan said it is noteworthy that 70 per cent of respondents reported that their mental health issues negatively affected their work, a fact Welter-Nolan said goes against the trope of the "tortured artist" producing their best work when struggling.
"I think there's a public perception that people with mental health challenges create better art, and that is patently untrue," Welter-Nolan said. "When you have people that are in a really good place, they're able to expand creatively."
Issues vary depending on field of work
Mental health issues also varied depending on field of work, Welter-Nolan added, with writers and visual artists struggling more with feelings of loneliness during the pandemic while concerns for performance artists and dancers included body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
While financial support like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit was the most stable income a lot of Nova Scotia artists had received during their careers, Welter-Nolan said there's now a gap in funding and support for cultural recovery provincially and nationally.
The struggle to access mental health supports has far-reaching effects on the art world and art consumers, said lead research co-ordinator Eryn Foster. The pandemic highlighted that.
"People really relied on artists to be able to entertain them, to be able to provide some sort of an escape from much of what was such a challenging time for so many people," she said.
"Artists became very creative during this time, and I think it tells us how much we really rely on artists within our communities and our society, and that we really need to also look at ways that we can support artists so that they're there to support us."
Series of recommendations
The report also offers a series of recommendations. Those include health navigation and referral services for artists, funding to allow individual artists to access mental health services as well as funding to allow organizations and groups to develop their own artist-centred mental health programs.
Welter-Nolan said the study found most arts organizations in Nova Scotia haven't received a funding increase operationally from the province in almost 20 years.
They echoed Foster's point, saying that the results of the study highlight the value of the art sector.
"Artists were already living in the margins in a very precarious position before the pandemic, so the impact of the pandemic has had on them is very, very significant," Welter-Nolan said.
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