It always starts on the hottest day of the year. Plein Air Easton 2023, one of the most prestigious and largest Plein Air festivals in the U.S. today, welcomed 58 artists to enter a grueling 10-day competition filled with challenging landscapes, climate, and stress. This year, the festival added an additional benefit for artists, visitors, staff, and volunteers at this year’s events. While the Avalon Foundation has always focused on the physical health of its participants in the heat of summer, this year, through a partnership with For All Seasons, the organization focused on the stress of the competition and the importance of mental health and wellness.
“For 20 years, we have been providing our competing artists with all kinds of information, instruction, and access to medical professionals around heat and hydration and around Lyme disease and ticks. While we’ve been focused on their health, not once have we stopped and thought about their mental health,” comments Jessica Bellis, CFO and COO of the Avalon Foundation.
“Plein Air Easton is the like the Masters in golf. There is a lot of money and fame that is connected to your performance during the 10 days. We remove these artists from all of their support networks and systems and drop them in really harsh conditions. If we’re creating a situation that is going to be high-stress, then it should be our responsibility to provide additional supports. And you know, this is how we both eliminate the stigma associated with a mental health crisis.”
For All Seasons has held several events at the Avalon Theatre over the last 18 months, providing educational programming for the community on a variety of mental health topics, from anxiety and emotional burnout to suicide prevention.
“This partnership with the Avalon Foundation is the way that grassroots community outreach should be working. We aren’t just presenting these programs to the community, we are presenting these programs to the Avalon staff, so they by nature are also getting the mental wellness messages. Having us present programming about how mental health affects us all gave them an opportunity to think about the mental health component in this huge Plein Air ‘Olympics’ so to speak,” comments Beth Anne Dorman, President and CEO of For All Seasons.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about better self-care practices, how can we reset our organizational culture to think about mental health more. And as we started kind of getting ready for Plein Air Easton, we were talking about different educational content that we have provided,” adds Bellis.
“We started looking back on Plein Air Easton and we have had people drop out of the competition midway from stress. We’ve had artists give up their positions because they are having a high-stress time in their lives. We have lost artists to drug addiction, suicide, and major health issues. We have had people who participated in our competition while undergoing cancer treatments. And we’re not talking about mental health. Shame on us. People don’t talk about it and we’ve got to change that.”
In addition to the mental health messages presented by Beth Anne Dorman during the Plein Air Easton orientation for artists, For All Seasons offered artists, staff, volunteers, and visitors a variety of tools to help with the stress of the festival. Free materials included a fan and a handout on box breathing – a technique useful to help calm anxiety and nervousness. There were also short online videos in English and Spanish available on the For All Seasons landing page https://bit.ly/FASMentalHealthMinute, featuring For All Seasons Mental Health Minutes and other relaxation techniques.
For All Seasons offered Open Access walk-in crisis appointments both in person in Easton and through telehealth during the festival – a service they have been phasing in for the public over the last eight months. For All Seasons staff were ready to assist any artist who needed to be seen during the festival.
At its Tilghman Island site, For All Seasons staff provided wellness resources and cookies and lemonade for any artist, staff, volunteer, or visitor who wanted to stop by. Jane Gordon, one of the For All Seasons’ art therapists, was at Plein Air Easton’s Kid’s Corner with her coloring book, “Color Me Closer,” designed for people to color in pairs. This coloring book, produced and funded by For All Seasons, is a resource for supporting children who have experienced trauma, or for anyone who wants to improve relationships or just relax and have fun together.
“By providing this support, we are saying, ‘We see you. We are here for you. And the organization that is hosting you, the Avalon Foundation, thinks that your mental health is as important as the beautiful work that you’re creating,’” explains Dorman.
“The other thing that’s important in terms of this partnership is that we have a real opportunity for every single person who visits the Plein Air Festival to share the importance of mental health in a much different way. And the fact that the Avalon Foundation and For All Seasons can work together to create that path is very exciting.”
Watch for next month’s The Voice to report on the impact that this partnership had on the 2023 Plein Air Easton competition.