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Fiona is a practising professional artist, with a 20 year career specialising in public art and community engagement.

She reflects on her time at the recent CAN and Creative Recovery Network ‘Making Time’ Self-Care Retreat for Artists.

An incredibly pertinent (and for me, a deeply resonant) question was posed to the 20+ facilitators and participants attending the recent ‘Self Care for Artists’ retreat at Fairbridge (Pinjarra): how can we champion the transformative power of the arts to generate wellbeing in communities if we don’t champion wellness in our own personal arts practice and within the CACD sector itself?

That question really hit home.

Am I role-modeling wellness? Or am I embodying a CCD arts stereotype where I run myself ragged, giving and giving from one project to the next, depleting my energy reserves until I burn out?

Whose job is it to care for me anyway, if not myself? And collectively speaking, whose responsibility is it to care for the needs of artists and artsworkers if not the arts sector itself?

While most of us are familiar with trying to increase the sustainability of ours arts organisations and the communities in which we live and work, how often do we practice sustainability in our own arts practice?

How do we safeguard our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health when working (often intimately) with communities (particularly those that are traumatized, marginalized and disenfranchised)?

How can we be supported to do this better?

A self-care retreat for artists, it turns out, is actually an excellent place to ask these questions… and find some answers.

Now, let me be honest. When I first heard of the idea of a self-retreat for artists I didn’t find it particularly inviting. The term ‘retreat’ made me uncomfortable right from the get-go as it sounded so self-indulgent. However, I’m a curious cat, and wanted to see what it was all about and so I enlisted, but fess up to telling others (and myself) ‘it’s a workshop thing’…. ‘I’m doing some research’… I felt embarrassed when I whispered it was a retreat.

Squaring away enough time in my diary to attend a two day conference is hard enough… but you should have seen me suffer conniptions about ‘making time’ for two days of retreat! By the time I arrived I was a bit of a wreck.

Over the course of the next few days I came to realise that self-care is not self-indulgence fluff and fairy tales, but a daily practice requiring rigour, reflection and dedication. It must be self-motivated but not self-inflicted. And it can truly flourish when supported by others.

Kudos to the team of organisers who assembled the holistic program that presented multifaceted approaches to self-care moving between challenge and nurture, discomfort and ease, humour to pathos, catering for the needs of heart, mind, body and spirit.

There was evidence of a meticulous attention to the detail of ‘cultivating care’: fresh flowers, welcoming signs, goody bags, AMAZING food, the facilitators housed along with the participants, (dissolving the separation between the us and the them, the supposedly knowing and the unknowing. All on the road together.) These small things (often overlooked in forums and conferences) and the inclusion of ritual – such as the smoking and cacao ceremonies – brought a reverence to the weekend that allowed it to transcend the ordinary, and embue it with a sense of intimacy, reciprocity, tenderness and potency.

Some fleeting fragments from memory include:

  • The sharing of personal stories from Indigenous leaders, Koodah, Susan and Jerome Cornwell, and insights into the ancient wisdom of their culture;
  • Stimulation for the mind through a presentation about the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Response to Child Sexual Abuse, including strategies to deal with stress in the workplace and examples of how the health and other sectors support their workers to maintain wellness when working with traumatized communities;
  • Erica’s physical theatre activities that connected us with the emotions trapped within our bodies (I had some real ‘a-ha’ moments with those);
  • A mix of quietly contemplative individual work juxtaposed with group sessions;
  • The sensory wonderland of Willow and Catherine’s Cacao meditation interwoven with recent scientific inquiry into the properties of the heart and its function in our lives;
  • Opportunities to meet and connect with kindred creative spirits who share some of my passions (and some of my weaknesses).

Kudos to the CAN team for not only identifying the need for this kind of retreat but helping to shape the weekend and subsidise costs. This is visionary sector leadership.

Big respect to Scotia for bringing her national perspective and considerable expertise to the imperative conversation of how to embolden the arts to care for those at the interface of creativity and community.

Warm thanks to Ricky and Ron, for the way in which they (seemed to) effortlessly weave together the weekend’s narrative.

After twenty years of professional practice devoted to the arts, I had my first experience of the arts industry REALLY caring about my wellbeing (heart, body, mind and spirit) as a person, not just as an artist/artsworker. This is a profound shift. It has opened my eyes to the possibility of how this kind of self-care message can be translated to other key players and events across the sector.

From personal experience I can encourage anyone experiencing trepidation about signing up for any future ‘retreats’ to step boldly forward and carve out space in your calendar to question what inspires, ignites and informs you, grounds, connects, restores and ultimately uplifts you.

If we as artists and artsworkers are to bear fruit for the benefit of our communities we must be self-nurturing individually and collectively. To truly champion community wellness we must begin by championing our own.

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