Help the performing arts recover

13 May, 2020

“Literally every person I know that works in the arts lost their job” says Matt Heyward, a professional music theatre performer. “Actors, musicians, producers, stage management… our whole sector was just wiped out”.

Despite the illusions of glamour and excitement, working in the arts can be a rocky road. Artists choose that road because of the immense love for their craft, but it’s times like these, that really put a spotlight on their hardships.

The unique challenges for artists

Arts Centre Melbourne Stage Door

Performers, creatives and arts administrators all work under the intense pressure of completely immovable deadlines – whether the show is ready to go or not, 2,000 people are walking through the doors at 7.30pm. For many in the industry, a lot of time is spent on tour, away from home, friends and family for weeks, months or even years at a time. Actors specifically undertake the emotional challenge of inhabiting a character every night – perhaps one who is evil, sadistic or manipulative.

A report released by Victoria University in 2016 found that workers in the Australian entertainment industry skewed above the national averages for anxiety, depression and suicide. This report put numbers to what many in the industry know anecdotally to be true: the industry was suffering.

Arts Center Melbourne Empty Stage

The Arts Wellbeing Collective

Arts Centre Melbourne were moved by the survey’s findings, and in response, initiated the Arts Wellbeing Collective – a consortium of arts and cultural organisations, whose shared vision is to effect better mental health and wellbeing for performing arts workers.

Head of Program of the Arts Wellbeing Collective, Tracy Margieson, has been involved from the beginning. “We often dismiss mental health problems in the arts as the ‘tortured artist’ myth. But this report showed that it wasn’t just our performing artists who were struggling – the issues were far more systemic and cultural.”

Arts Centre Melbourne empty seating

A focus on the ‘how’

The Arts Wellbeing Collective program focuses on taking action, with practical tools and techniques for individuals, performing arts companies, and performing arts organisations of all shapes and sizes, to promote positive mental health.

Since launching the full program in 2018, the Arts Wellbeing Collective has:

  • Delivered more than 100 workshops and 70 presentations
  • Met with leadership teams of 40+ performing arts companies to strategise the promotion of positive mental health in their workplace
  • Enabled professional help-seeking through the Support Act Wellbeing Helpline, a 24/7 phone counselling service available to anyone who works in the performing arts industry
  • Rolled out tailored, accredited Mental Health First Aid training to nearly 200 performing arts practitioners
  • Confirmed more than 300 member organisations

Broadening horizons

Arts Wellbeing Collective presentation

Recently, the Arts Wellbeing Collective was presented at the International Society for the Performing Arts in New York. “As mental health in the workplace garners significant interest on a global scale, I feel that there is an opportunity for the performing arts to really be leading the way” says Tracy.

“For me, it’s the best job in the world. I spend every day working towards improving the mental health and wellbeing of my community. It’s challenging, rewarding, and I feel unbelievably lucky to be a part of it.”



COVID-19 is creating a crisis for Australia’s performing arts professionals.
To survive this crisis, the arts community needs your help.

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