Arts Organizations: Help Us Heal

| by Katie Weeks

My sister asked me recently, “What do arts leaders need to hear from you in this moment?”

And my answer came easily: “We need these organizations to help the community heal. Please, arts leaders, find a way to use your gift and help us each heal.”

We have all experienced and are experiencing collective trauma. Our old ways of living cannot happen due to COVID-19. We have lost contact with people, we have missed events, we have had hundreds of changes to our day-to-day lives.

Everyone has. But just because everyone has does not mean there is not sadness, grief, and unfinished emotions.

In the podcast between Brené Brown and Emily and Amelia Nagoski, they talk about their book Burnout and How to Complete the Stress Cycle. They share how emotions have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And if the emotion is not fully dealt with in the moment, it gets shoved down inside of us to be attended to another day. Check out the podcast here.

We are collectively shoving so many unfinished emotions inside our bodies that at some point are going to overflow.

A friend reached out and shared that her stress of managing life, kids, and a job have manifested in hives (which she has never had before) and increased migraines. Her body is on overload and does not know what to do with all the unfinished emotions and there is no more space to put them.

As someone who has been engaged in the arts since I was 4 years old as a dancer and then as an actress and not-so-good singer, to working in one of the nation’s largest united arts funds, then to one of the nation’s largest children’s theatres, and most recently as a nonprofit consultant leading arts organizations through assessments, strategic planning, and executive transitions, I know the arts are uniquely positioned to help individuals and the overall community heal.

Here is my proposal:

  • If you lead an arts organization, brainstorm with your team on how you can help individuals heal.
  • Reach out to your local NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Health) or other mental health organization and have conversations about the impact of trauma and COVID-19 grief.
  • Start training your educators NOW on how to help move individuals through their emotions.
  • Talk to funders about how your organization wants to be part of the solution and then DO THE WORK.
  • Provide ways for the entire community to engage in art.

The arts allow people to feel.

Dear Arts Community, we need you now more than ever (please know I REALLY do not like it when organizations say “now more than ever” because it is usually a lie, but our current realities really are unprecedented).

Here are some initial ideas for you to consider:

Are you a dance organization? Host a workshop on how movement and emotions are connected. Provide dance outside of nursing home windows. Ask students to create a dance about their COVID-19 experience and record and submit them. Then create a video library of the submissions and a short video to share broadly.

Are you a theatre organization? Create a playwriting competition asking people to write about their COVID-19 experience, what has been challenging, and how have they grown. Offer a monologue category and a short scene category. Hire local actors to perform the pieces for a virtual audience. Create a short video to share wildly.

Are you a visual arts organization? Create a community art piece where people can draw their experience. Have them submit their drawings and install a mosaic of the different pieces in a public place to visually represent how people can move through their emotions.

Are you a music organization? Please create a video of people singing – in front of a mirror, unrehearsed, and honest – about their emotions surrounding COVID-19 in their best opera voice or their best Broadway belt. Create a 6-foot socially distanced circle and do pop-up performances as front-line workers arrive and leave hospitals and retail stores.

If you are a funder, support organizations’ technical capacity to manage and edit video submissions. Create a clear path to training arts educators to better support the mental health and emotional wellness space. Fund efforts that allow organizations to share their work with others, encourage participation and, most of all, let each of us engage in the arts so we can heal ourselves and be stronger for those who need us.

The arts heal, and we all could use some healing right now.

Let me know what your organization is doing to support your employees, your clients, and your community to heal at katie@armstrongmcguire.com.

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