A recurring theme emerged from the recent Communicating the Arts Roadshow in Sydney. This was that arts organisations had emerged from the first nine months of Covid by getting shit done by whatever means at their disposal. At the same time there was a downside to this entrepreneurial spirit. Many people were being asked to do so much more, with less, under great stress and within insane timeframes. This was having an impact upon their social and emotional wellbeing.

This might appear obvious in hindsight, however for the past six months so much of our attention has been upon the impact of lockdowns upon artists and support acts, it leads me to wonder if we may have neglected to consider the impact upon corporate, admin, marketing, HR and artistic program staff that traditionally beaver away in the background?

Yes, artists and technical staff have paid a heavy price over the past nine months, however many artists have also benefited from the efforts of arts organisations in creating opportunities for art to be created. Behind those initiatives is a team of back office people, many who may have had their hours reduced, living with unknown, wondering how long they might have a job also – yet charged with enabling art to be created.

The impact of stress can be difficult to detect, and some people become very good at hiding it from others. In some ways, the person that ‘loses’ it because of stress may be the lucky one. they are ones others know are in need of help.

Stress in the arts sector is not new, and most certainly was not created by the arrival of Covid. In an industry sector dominated by casual work, short term gigs, uncertainty and periods of unemployment, many people in the sector have developed their own suite of coping tools. Covid has however magnified the impact and made it more difficult for people to maintain a stable environment.

As an arts manager, it’s important to think about how to support your staff, particularly those struggling with stress and other emotions. It is important to understand that even if you are coping, others may not be. It is important to ask R U Ok? The Arts Wellbeing Collective, a part of Melbourne Art Centre provide a range of artistic-centric resources tailored to the creative sector.

Remain engaged with all employees, and even those volunteers that have served your organisation so well in the past. Professional development and new learning has been shown to be a valuable way to keep people focused upon the future, rather than the present, and provide them with hope. Continuous learning opens our imaginations and forces us to consider multiple or emerging perspectives. this suggests the role of HR is greater than providing wellbeing resources.

I’m John Coxon, founder of art4u.australia, a consulting agency helping arts organisations to remain viable through application of The Cycle a proven model for arts organisations. Contact me by SMS or 0424103971 or email.

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