With the latest issue of JAM — the AMA’s journal of arts marketing — focusing on health and wellbeing, we invited Rosie Kelly to explain why China Plate have devised guidelines for safeguarding artist and company wellbeing and mental health with the launch of its new Artist Wellbeing Policy.
China Plate is an independent producer of contemporary theatre, and Associate Producers at Warwick Arts Centre. Alongside our artist development projects and programming portfolio, we’re privileged to work with some of the UK’s most talented artists to produce and deliver high-quality work that reaches a broad and diverse audience.
Building on some of the work we have produced in the past, we recently created an Artist Wellbeing Policy, which aims to provide guidelines for safeguarding artist and company wellbeing and mental health across all of our productions.
China Plate had started to address the need for additional wellbeing support when working alongside various artists who used true stories and/or autobiographical events to create new work. This ranged from simply questioning whether standard working hours, schedules and rehearsal room set up was appropriate for particular productions, to inviting therapeutic consultants into the creative process in order to provide emotional and psychological support and training in wellbeing techniques.
Over time, it became apparent that these approaches were significantly benefiting the overall working environment. Provision for wellbeing could actually open up the creative potential for risk taking within the rehearsal room and, in turn, shape the work itself.
This made us question whether we could move our approach away from addressing wellbeing only on specific projects, and start being proactive in thinking about artist and creative team wellbeing across all of our productions, whether or not they worked with non-fictional/autobiographical material.
We began to look at how we might create internal policy around wellbeing — formalising tried and tested approaches whilst also looking at what more could be done to embed support into productions from inception to touring. As well as reviewing internal company procedure, the process also became about encouraging artists’ awareness of and responsibility for their own wellbeing — to give them the opportunity to question what creative environment works best for them, the company and the production.
The policy was written in consultation with Artist Wellbeing Practitioner Lou Platt, who had worked with us on integrating care into our previous productions. We collaborated with Dramatherapist Nikki Disney, consultant Griffyn Gilligan and Psychodramatist Dr Clark Baim to explore strategic thinking behind wellbeing and mental health in the arts, and talked with artists, individuals and organisations who are doing similar work in this field, to try and translate this thinking into practical policy.
Some of the policy action points are simple — we now provide our producers with Mental Health First Aid training; send out a health and wellbeing declaration form and access audit to all company members; question how best to invite audience feedback and reviews; and assign a specific member of staff as the main point of contact for health and wellbeing.
Other, more bespoke approaches for certain productions might include: providing breakout spaces for artists and/or audiences; creating a code of conduct for touring venues; signposting to support for company members; and including a budgeted contingency for wellbeing support. Whatever the approach, we’re fighting against the temptation to “power through” a project — get the money, make the show, book the tour — by ensuring that we always question how to best support the artists and teams that we work with, as well as audiences, venue staff, workshop participants, and anyone who may be affected by a production.
Although the policy is based on China Plate’s work, it is very much part of a bigger and integral conversation around wellbeing that is happening at the moment. It is by no means a finished product, rather an open, evolving document that will be shaped by future experiences and by sector-wide learning. We hope that it can be used as an open source to encourage and empower other artists and producers to take similar actions.
China Plate’s Artist Wellbeing Policy is available to download from China Plate’s website. Rosie Kelly is Senior Producer at China Plate.
Image courtesy of China Plate — The Shape of the Pain. Photograph by The Other Richard.