This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
For many performing artists, their career is a calling. But what happens if that calling conflicts with your needs, or if your calling changes?
This month, Confluence – Créateur de vocations, a Quebec non-profit for performing artists in career transitions, launched Ligne à l’eau, a free support line for artists facing career uncertainty.
The confidential service is staffed by artist-responders trained in various counselling strategies. They also work in arts disciplines including dance, circus, theatre and music, and offer hour-long video conference calls that can be scheduled online, with multiple slots each weekday.
Through years of accompanying artists during career transitions, Parise Mongrain, the director of Confluence, and her colleagues repeatedly observed the positive impact of peer support in their programs. They also noticed the competition and precarious employment status typical of performing arts careers made artists less willing to turn to each other or loved ones for support.
“It predisposes us to silence,” said Mongrain. “There is shame for some artists about being in a situation of failure in their career, having difficulty talking about it with a spouse also in the field encountering a great success, or admitting it to their family who had warned them not to venture into the discipline.”
The need for such support became more apparent with the COVID-19 pandemic as psychological professionals were overwhelmed by demand. Though the Ligne à l’eau responders do not replace psychotherapy or give advice, Mongrain explained that many artists’ situations don’t require therapy, but do merit intimate and confidential conversations.
“Psychologists do essential work that can support an artist on a path or a specific problem, but I think there is a dimension that we neglect currently…and that is our friends and our peers.”
To make sure the service complemented existing resources available to artists, Confluence designed the support line in conversation with partners across the performing arts including the Conseil québécois de la musique, the Conseil québécois du théâtre, En Piste, Guilde des musiciens et musiciennes du Québec, the Regroupement québécois de la danse and the Union des artistes.
Mongrain sees the launch of Ligne à l’eau as a key development in what aims to be a 360-degree support system for artists. Along with the partner organizations, Québec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications helped Confluence throughout the process of finding solutions to artist precarity and isolation, and continue to bring essential support and legitimacy to the programs and services.
Catherine Archambault, a director, choreographer and performer, was accompanied by Confluence in the evolution of her career and decided to return to the organization to help staff Ligne à l’eau as an artist-responder. She wants to share hope in what she knows first-hand is a scary moment for many artists.
“There is such a panic, a void. We have no idea where we are going or what we’ll do so it’s so reassuring to have a person to talk to,” said Archambault.
The artist-responders at the other end of the line are not there to tell their peers what to do or provide answers, but rather to empower them with the sense that they are well surrounded and can find stable ground. In addition to their training in counselling strategies, they are equipped with a list of resources for artists needing additional support.
When Archambault began her counselling training and the transformation of her own career, she noticed that listening and sharing her experience with artist-peers allowed them to express what was often kept at bay out of shame and fear.
“There is something that we don’t dare admit to ourselves [in a transition],” said Archambault. “Sometimes we lack confidence in our own reasons, we don’t follow our own interior voice.”
Whether an artist is coming from a long successful career as she was, or just emerging into the field, Archambault compared transitions to a leap into thin air. For experienced artists, the spectre of a few years of instability in a transition can feel vertiginous, while younger artists often don’t know where to turn when they feel lost.
Despite, and because of, the unique challenges shared by performing artists, Mongrain said Ligne à l’eau has everything it needs to work.
“I really believe in the power of the community of artists to generate projects for artists.” She hopes the service will help artists break isolation amongst their peers and find solidarity.
With the launch of the service, Archambault wants her peers at the precipice of a change to know, “Yes it’s a leap, but we are here.”
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