How artists face unique mental-health challenges, and what P.E.I. is doing about it
You've spent days, weeks, maybe even months on a piece of art and it's finally finished.
Or is it?
Will anybody like it? More importantly, will anybody buy it? You need the money. What should you charge? You know what it's worth, but do they?
The life of an artist is full of highs and lows, and a recent survey by Creative P.E.I. suggests the Island is not immune to the toll it can take on mental health.
The survey last fall that included 91 respondents over a three-month period, showed almost 80 per cent said poor mental health has negatively impacted them.
The biggest cause of stress was financial insecurity — and that money issues have made them start to lose or lose enjoyment in their work.
Other stressors included a lack of a support network or appropriate medical care.
Mark Sandiford, executive director of Creative P.E.I. — the sector council that works on behalf of P.E.I.'s arts, culture and creative professionals — said the mental-health challenges are often compounded for artists because of precarious income and the vulnerability that comes with expressing themselves publicly.
"The thing that's unique about the mental health picture in arts and culture is not so much that the mental health challenges are any different, the thing is it's hard to find people who can help you with those problems who are familiar with what the reality of life in arts and culture is."
3-year grant for $287K
Creative P.E.I. is taking steps to address those issues.
It recently received a three-year grant for $287,550 from the P.E.I. Alliance for Mental Well-Being, a non-profit organization created in 2021 that "aims to ensure all people living in Prince Edward Island have an equal opportunity to achieve and maintain the best possible mental well-being throughout their lifetime."
Creative P.E.I. said it will use the money to hire peer-support workers and create an accessible and affordable counselling service that caters specifically to Island artists.
"If you're speaking to a counsellor, you may end up spending the first hour, half hour, of your session explaining why it is that you chose to be a dancer or a writer or … work in film before you even get to the mental health challenges," Sandiford said.
"Whereas if you can deal with people who are already familiar with why people work in the arts, they can skip over that part and get straight to the part of your specific issue that you're facing."
The help is welcome news for artists such as Brady Cudmore, who worked in New York City for 12 years performing in off-Broadway shows and as a "singing bartender" before moving home to P.E.I. when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Artists are complex, he said, and it's helpful to speak with someone who understands their challenges.
We really care about the thing we are creating so therefore we put this added pressure subconsciously that most other people wouldn't necessarily understand. — Brady Cudmore
"These levels of frustration do occur. I think we are perfectionists. We really care about the thing we are creating so therefore we put this added pressure subconsciously that most other people wouldn't necessarily understand unless they were working in that industry."
Cudmore, 33, currently works as a server and social media consultant between gigs as a singer-songwriter, dancer and actor.
He said he wishes more artists could make a living "expressing ourselves the way we were intended to" without having to take a 9-to-5 job to make ends meet.
"It's when you see artists that can no longer produce or feel that they can no longer produce, that are really talented, and that inspire, I think that's where the sadness really comes in."
What to charge?
Artists may not excel at business, he said, and deciding what to charge for their work can get "very overwhelming."
"Artists are so giving, we tend to give, what we create is what we put out into the world so we have a tendency to have very giving hearts and that also can go to our detriment as well because then we're like, 'Well, I don't know what I would charge.'"
Sandiford is thankful that help is on the way.
"As an organization, our real responsibility is to help our members feel better. And sometimes that means not sort of just advocacy. Sometimes it means actually helping. And that's what we're going to be able to do with this grant."