How did the Arts Wellbeing Collective start?

In 2016 Arts Centre Melbourne CEO, Claire Spencer, was investigating mental health and wellbeing initiatives that could be delivered for Arts Centre Melbourne team members.

Then, Entertainment Assist and Victoria University’s report, Working in the Australian Entertainment Industry: Final Report (van den Eynde, Fisher & Sonn, 2016) was released. The report engaged with entertainment industry workers from across the sector – from performers to producers, dancers to directors, and a wide variety of management, production and technical roles. It uncovered startling statistics.

Of the entertainment industry workers surveyed:

  • 15.2% experienced symptoms of moderate to severe depression, and
  • 44% experienced symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety.

With indicators of poor mental health so prevalent across all roles, there was an urgent need to create industry-wide positive systemic cultural change.

Recognising that the need was whole-of-industry, Arts Centre Melbourne sought funding to trial a response, and engaged an Advisory Group of experienced industry professionals. This lead to the Pilot Program of the Arts Wellbeing Collective in 2017.

The Pilot Program

The Arts Wellbeing Collective Pilot Program was developed in consultation with psychologists Greta Bradman and Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. The aim of the Pilot was to explore the unique mental health challenges faced by performing arts workers, identify themes, and test potential positive interventions.

Key facts about the Pilot Program:

  • Launched in February 2017 and concluded in November 2017
  • Attracted strong interest, delivering 40 activities across 2017 and welcoming 138 members to the Collective
  • Was evaluated by independent, external expert led by consultant Ann Tonks who found there was:

“a desire for the program to continue and expand. The program was seen as timely, useful, resource rich and generally well presented. There was relief that the program had started and gratitude to Arts Centre Melbourne for making it happen.”

The Pilot Program revealed a need for:

  • Practical skills, knowledge and resources to address specific mental health challenges in the performing arts
  • Support for performing arts companies and organisations to create mentally healthy workplaces
  • Improved access to and awareness of support services
  • Positive culture shifts around systems, processes and practices that were having a negative impact on mental health

The Arts Wellbeing Collective grows

At the end of the Pilot Program, Arts Centre Melbourne worked with innovation partner, PwC, to explore opportunities for continuing and growing the Arts Wellbeing Collective.

Key facts about the Arts Wellbeing Collective Program:

  • Developed a strategy based on insights from Pilot Program evaluation and research into workplace mental health
  • Secured funding from WorkSafe Victoria’s WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund
  • Officially launched on World Mental Health Day 2018

Since then, 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
  • Developed and delivered a range of resources for production teams, touring companies, performing artists and more
  • Enabled professional help-seeking through the Support Act Wellbeing Helpline
  • Rolled out tailored, accredited Mental Health First Aid training to more than 200 performing arts practitioners
  • Confirmed more than 300 member organisations

International recognition and awards

The Arts Wellbeing Collective team have delivered presentations on international stages including the Tessitura Learning & Community Conference in Orlando, Florida, and the International Society for the Performing Arts Congress in New York, and has received several accolades including:

  • Winner Martin Seligman Health and Wellbeing Award, AHRI Awards 2019
  • Finalist in the VicHealth Awards, Improving Mental Wellbeing 2017, 2018, 2019
  • Finalist in the Australian HR Awards, Best Health & Wellbeing Program 2017