Mental Health Awareness for Arts Venues

A guide for arts venues initially developed by Viv Gordon, an artist living with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and informed by The Social Model of Disability.

INTRODUCTION

Living with a long term mental health condition is a disability and a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. A commitment to equality and diversity should include the removal of barriers to participation for staff, artists and audiences with mental health conditions.

This guide suggests first steps and actions suitable for theatres and arts venues working with artists with mental health needs. It is intended to spark conversation and debate and make it easier for artists to flag up their needs and for venues to respond.

CONTEXT

This guide was initially developed by Viv Gordon, an artist living with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, when touring her first solo show I am Joan in 2016/17. Informed by The Social Model of Disability, she wanted to experiment with mental health friendly making and touring processes addressing not just her own individual needs but the structural barriers she faces in her work.

Viv applied the learning from this pilot in different contexts including as an Agent for Change with Salisbury International Arts Festival 2017 and as a mentor to a range of artists living with mental health conditions. In 2018, Salisbury Playhouse invited Viv to co-curate their Theatre Fest West symposium themed on artist wellbeing, in partnership with Take Art, Activate and Theatre Bristol. This document was discussed and developed by delegates at the symposium including other artists campaigning for mental health access and inclusion including Emma Louvelle, Louisa Adjoa Parker, Dolly Sen, Viki Browne and Richard Crowe. Viv has worked with Jo Newman, Associate Director at Wiltshire Creative to develop this document and include input from a venue perspective.

ACTIONS

Develop Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health is a hidden disability that affects 1 in 4 adults in any year. Stigma and discrimination are the biggest barriers facing our community. Many barriers for people with mental health conditions are environmental, cultural, attitudinal and semantic.

Develop the communication and listening skills of your staff in order to create a welcoming, non-judgemental, non-stigmatising environment.

Learn how to use positive language and avoid dismissive, trivialising or discriminatory terms. Understand not everyone likes the same terms so be willing to differentiate, make mistakes and be challenged.

There are lots of informative websites such as Time to Change and the Mental Health Foundation. Mental Health Awareness Training and Mental Health First Aid courses are widely available. Your local branch of Mind will be able to provide information.

Using these resources you can learn how to:

  • Have informed conversations about mental health

  • Recognise exclusionary beliefs and practices in your organisation

  • Recognise when someone is in distress & offer appropriate support/signposting

  • Include mental health in your equality action plan, safeguarding policy and risk assessments

Review your Access arrangements

Requesting the access needs of artists and companies you are working with (from in-house projects to visiting work) is essential to inclusive practice. Everyone’s needs are different – so it is important to ask, listen and respond. Some artists – especially those with hidden conditions – will not be used to talking about their needs so providing relevant examples could be useful (see below).

If artists you are working with need support/advice on how to articulate their access needs, Ria Hartley has developed a really useful toolkit as part of her Ecologies of Care initiative: https://www.ecologiesofcare.org/toolkit/

Checklist for improving access for artists with mental health conditions

Venue Policy

  • Considering programming and development opportunities for artists with mental health conditions.

  • Including mental health in disability and diversity conversations and policy.

  • Training all staff and particularly front of house, artist liaison and technical staff in mental health awareness (see above links for further info).

  • Providing artists with a quiet space, welcoming dressing rooms, refreshments and a point of contact (see below).

  • Ring fencing an access fund to meet unforeseen access costs.

Communication with artists

  • Make it a practice to ask all artists you are working with if they have any access needs

  • Making sure there is a point of contact at venue for access needs who the artist can contact from the point of booking the show right up until the show itself (making sure that the question of access needs does not fall between programming and technical departments)

  • Providing a welcome pack in advance with clear information about parking and local amenities.

  • Being willing to make reasonable adjustments to how you work – for example adapting a rehearsal/production process or touring schedule to fit with the needs of the artist, and allowing time off for regular therapy appointments.

  • Providing clarity about data protection and confidentiality processes such as how the artist’s information will be shared.

With thanks to Wiltshire Creative for sharing this guide and learning with us.

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