INQUIRE: Strategies for Overcoming Challenging Times
It’s no secret that the arts industry has faced some of its toughest times over the past few years, with lockdowns, changing public health guidelines, and audiences reluctant to return to live performances. And while there is much to celebrate and be grateful for, we asked four arts leaders in Vancouver and Toronto to share their strategies for overcoming challenges and remaining positive and hopeful in times of adversity, both professionally and personally.
MPMG ASKED CULTURE LEADERS:
In your opinion, what helps you stay grounded and positive in times of challenge?
Jodi Proznick (Bassist, Composer & Producer; Jazz Studies Department Chair, VSO School of Music; Co-Artistic Director, Music Arts Collective)
I surround myself with people whom I trust. I make sure I spend lots of time in nature. I take many breaks to rest and rejuvenate. I remind myself that all things shall pass, including the challenging times. I also remind myself that the challenging times are like clouds in the sky – they won’t stay around forever, and each day is a chance for a fresh start.
Kevin Woo (General Manager, Theatre Under the Stars)
Over the past three years, there have been many challenges, specifically in the arts community, but who you choose to surround yourself with and who chooses to be at your side are really what makes the difference between organized and disorganized chaos. As a very hands-on role that I hold, it was great this year to be working with people who, when the going got tough, didn’t back down. We are all working towards the same goal and, at the end of the day, knew everything is going to turn out just fine.
Creating an environment where growth, whether it be individual or collective, can be achieved in even the most challenging situations will always reap rewards. We see it at the end of each performance on the faces of the audience when they leave.
Andrea Loewen (Managing Director, Presentation House Theatre)
To be honest, I no longer focus on “staying positive,” as I find these days we have so much toxic positivity in our culture that it feels more like I’m gaslighting myself than taking care of myself. That said, I do try to remind myself of the good parts of life when I can, using adapted versions of the practices I wrote about in my book Feeling Better: A Field Guide to Liking Yourself. In the book, I talk about my method of daily gratitude journalling that helped me learn to stop hating myself. These days, my needs have changed. Instead, every week I take a moment to write down the highlights from the past week, as well as a few things I’m looking forward to in the future. This reminds me that my life has a lot of good in the past, present, and future.
When everything feels terrible, sometimes I’ll sit and journal about everything that sucks and how horrible I feel. Then I’ll write something like, “all that is true, and also…” and then write about some good things that I’m grateful for. That way I feel like I’m not trying to erase the negative, but am holding it in balance with the positive, which is just as real, deep, and meaningful.
Finally, one of my COVID lessons was to spend more time doing things that I enjoy, which is also something I wrote about in my book (funny how we need to re-learn our own lessons so often). Nothing helps you feel grounded and good about yourself more than doing things that make you feel grounded and good about yourself. For me, that’s usually spending time with loved ones, hosting, crafting or baking, or being outdoors.
Nathalie Bonjour (Director, Performing Arts, Harbourfront Centre)
Perspective. Gratitude. Self-care.
I try to keep things in perspective. I listen. I stay open and remain flexible. We’ve had to embrace a lot of change recently and radically shift the ways we were working. But some creative ideas came from that, as well as new or deepened relationships. I remain inspired by artists and the worlds they create. I am grateful for the immense privilege I have in my job to experience so many shows and share some of them with our audiences.
On a personal level, I practice self-care, as much as possible. For me, that means rest, good food, walking and spending time with friends and family. I try to listen to my body and my mind and I seek support when I need it.
And I accept that I can’t always be grounded and positive – and that’s okay! Like a lot of people, I’ve had many challenges these past couple of years – both professional and personal. Life is tough sometimes. I remind myself that that is part of life and that I am grateful for what I do have in life.
Artist Photo (Left to Right): Jodi Proznick by Michele Mateus; Kevin Woo by Ryan Bolton; Andrea Loewen by Jalen Laine Photography; Nathalie Bonjour by Brian Medina.