Research from RMIT University highlights the impact of Victoria’s COVID-19 restrictions on arts workers, including creative and technical workers and the implications for their mental health.
The arts and creative sector is one of the industries most impacted by COVID-19 government restrictions. Galleries, museums, cinemas and concert halls have locked their doors, while multiple festivals have been cancelled. Work in this sector is extensively casualised; people often hold several casual or fixed-term contracts, and the COVID-19 restrictions has led to workers finding themselves with little or no income on very short notice. Jobs in the arts and creative sector have plummeted.
Research shows that the challenges brought on by the pandemic has flowed onto the mental health of those working in the arts and creative sectors.
Studying the impact of the arts shutdown on workers’ emotional and mental health are Dr Jacinthe Flore and Dr Natalie Hendry - Postdoctoral Research Fellows in the Social and Global Studies Centre, and the School of Media and Communication and Digital Ethnographic Research Centre, at RMIT University.
Findings from their anonymous survey - The C19 x ARTS x DIGITAL LABOUR study - show the pandemic has made unsteady work even more precarious for artists and workers.
The survey focuses on the experiences of performers, artists, writers, musicians, or similar creative or artistic roles across any genre with a particular interest in experiences of work interruptions; emotional and mental health impacts; using social and digital media to navigate emotional and mental health, seek other work (in or outside of the arts and creative sector) and find connections in isolation; and using social and digital media to continue performance work (for example, online performances and soliciting donations) and relationships with audiences.
Reviewing the survey responses, Dr Hendry - who researches how people experience mental ill-health in their families, and how social media influences health decisions and education - advises “some workers felt hopeless and were worried they’d lose their skill set or that the industry was changed forever.
“Many people in our study spoke about multiple jobs and short-term contracts or project-based work, with little financial or social security.
“But the pandemic challenges this ‘normal uncertainty’.
“With suddenly empty schedules and an interruption to seasonal work patterns, these arts workers have lost the structures and routines that provided rhythm – and mental stability – to their lives. This is on top of long-term funding challenges for the sector in Australia.
Dr Hendry adds “participants stressed that we can’t tease apart artists’ work, community, and mental health. They are all interrelated.
“This means that supporting this industry is complex. Opening up opportunities for more clinical mental health services doesn’t fit for all artists and workers.
“Workers talked about how they nurtured their wellbeing through their work and sense of self as an artist and their connections within their artistic communities.”
Dr Jacinthe Flore whose main areas of research include mental health and digital media, notes “going digital cannot solve all of the industry’s problems. Some performers and artists easily moved into working online or from home. But many participants said they were left out.
“Technical and administration workers are waiting for something to change – they can’t readily step into back-up work doing lighting jobs or sound work for events.
“The role of the creative arts is essential during a crisis like COVID-19. The arts can help recovery and lead creative, innovative and social ways of moving out of the pandemic.”
Dr Hendry and Dr Flore advise that “while statistics present data about the reduction or loss of work, there is a need for contextualised information about these workers’ experiences, particularly their emotional and mental health, during these unprecedented times.
“The data from this pilot study will help support advocacy initiatives by arts organisation as well as underpin potential policy submissions to the Victorian Government. We are also hoping that this is the beginning of larger project to capture the experiences of more arts and creative sector workers beyond Victoria.”
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