Artists who are parents and caregivers have complex access needs that are specific to their caregiving situations; there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to balancing caregiving and art-making. Many intersecting factors can compound the socio-economic burden on artists who are also caregivers.
The performing arts industry has not historically made space for caregiving needs, which has meant that caregivers have had to leave the industry entirely because it has been incompatible with caregiving. Artists should not have to choose between continuing their career versus their desire to have a family.
Many caregivers have faced workplace or industry discrimination. Examples of this may present as:
- Caregivers not being asked or invited into spaces because a producer assumes that they will not be able to dedicate themselves to the project fully or that they will be distracted.
- Caregivers not being asked or invited into spaces because there is an assumption that it will be too expensive or disruptive to meet their access needs.
- Caregivers being told that producers/directors/administrative leaders do not like children and do not want to see or hear evidence of their children in the workspace.
- Caregivers being disinvited from conferences or industry events because they will have children with them.
- Artists being told to hide pregnancies or evidence of children in order to maintain work.
- Artists being told that their career will be over if they choose to have children.
Approaches to Caregiver Support
Developing an approach to provide formal caregiver support is an integral part of establishing an anti-racist and gender inclusive work environment. Many caregiving support approaches also extend to folks who are caring for people with illnesses, elderly family, and people with specific access needs.
There are many ways to support caregivers in artistic projects. You can decide what is most feasible for you and/or your organization, and have a conversation with caregiver collaborators to determine what their needs are and how they prefer to have these needs met.
Start with your Budget
You may not know if you will be collaborating with/hiring any caregivers when you’re budgeting for a project, or you may have specific collaborators in mind. You will be able to budget in detail if you have specific information from your collaborators, but even without this information you can plan for things like emergency funds, lump-sum childcare fees for potential collaborators, and flexible or extended work schedules.
Some aspects of providing caregiver support will increase your budget more than others. For instance, paying for hourly childcare may cost more than providing a flat childcare fee to individual collaborators. Budgeting between $20-27/hour for childcare is appropriate (as of July 2021). You may also wish to consider offering and budgeting childcare support for events like auditions and performances.
Childcare is now an eligible expense for many public granting bodies, including the Toronto Arts Council Project Grants, and many Ontario Arts Council programs. Check in with your public granting body’s program officer to confirm if childcare/dependent care costs are eligible.
Extending your rehearsal period by opting for shorter workweeks and workdays has some budget considerations as well. While actors’ contracts can be prorated, which will not affect the performers’ budget lines, a Stage Manager’s fee cannot be prorated, so you will need to account for full workweeks when determining the SM’s fee regardless of the number of days or hours worked.
When contracting collaborators, organizing events, or putting out employment calls, it is a good practice to communicate clearly what you are able to offer caregivers, and to explicitly ask about access needs. Because of the power differential between the hiring body and the contractor, it can be very difficult for an artist or independent contractor to advocate for childcare support.
Childcare fees or funds
A childcare fee is an offer of money to cover childcare expenses. You may wish to cover this fee for extended periods of time or for shorter periods that require more time away from home for your collaborators, like evenings during a tech week, or the time between after-school pick up and dinner time. You may also wish to allocate a specific flat fee per collaborator to use for childcare expenses as they wish. If you are issuing T4 or T4as for the project include it in the reported income paid to the collaborator as it is a taxable benefit.
On-site childcare for auditions, rehearsals, workshops, and performances
There are instances when it might make sense to offer childcare and a childcare space on site for a variety of activities. Some caregivers may appreciate this option, while others will not be comfortable with it and will prefer to find their own childcare and use their own space.
It is important to set up a safe space for children with qualified caregivers. You may wish to work with a childcare agency (The Summerhill Club in Toronto is a great option). You will need to ensure that caregivers are comfortable with the age groups required and that you have insurance coverage for these activities.
You will need to communicate with parents about childrens’ specific access needs, allergies or food restrictions. You will need to record parents’ contact information for emergencies.
A childcare space will require age-appropriate toys or activities, a toilet/diapering area, a quiet area for naps, safe cleaning supplies, and high chairs or eating areas.
Local childcare resources
If you are hiring collaborators from out of town, creating a list of local childcare providers, family friendly accommodations and eateries, as well as local child-friendly activities is greatly appreciated.
On-Site lactation spaces
Caregivers who are breast/chest feeding may require a private, comfortable lactation area. This does not need to be an exclusive lactation space but should be accessible only to them when required. A basic set-up would include a comfortable chair, a clean surface or table, a door that closes/locks, and an electrical outlet. Check in with them about their needs and desired schedule, and build in extra time so that they do not have to use their break to breastfeed or pump. They will need access to space in a fridge to store milk.
Many performing arts companies are shifting to a 5-day rehearsal schedule instead of the traditional 6-day schedule as it allows for better self-care and balance. A 5-day rehearsal schedule also supports caregivers’ needs.
You may also wish to talk to your collaborators about their ideal work schedules, and shift rehearsal times to accommodate their caregiving needs. Shorter rehearsals over longer periods of time frequently benefits caregivers. Many companies are looking at alternatives to the 10/12 tech day to support caregivers. This kind of flexibility is especially valuable if you are not able to offer a caregiving fee.
Flexibility is also important when it comes to requests for time off during a rehearsal schedule. In the same way that we grant time off for actors to attend auditions, collaborators should be able to pick up children in an emergency, take time off for IVF/assisted reproduction treatments, or for other caregiving emergencies that arise from pregnancy loss, adoption, surrogacy, etc. These requests should be met without punishment or discrimination.
It is useful to work out a rehearsal/meeting schedule ahead of time as much as possible, so that caregivers can make childcare plans. It can take a lot of time and work to hire appropriate caregivers.
If you are planning an event or workshop, ask participants about their caregiving needs as part of a registration process, so that you can properly plan and strategize ways to offer support.
If you are working with a pregnant person, it is a good practice to check in with them about their needs and not to assume that they can’t do something because they are pregnant. They may need to take more frequent breaks, or they may need a comfortable space to sit. Talk to them about what they feel comfortable doing, as this may change over time.
Do not ask anyone about their pregnancy status and do not share a person’s pregnancy status without their consent.
Children in the room
In some circumstances, children may be welcome in a rehearsal room, workshop space, etc. Some caregivers will appreciate this and others would prefer space away from their child(ren) in order to work.
Consider what would happen to your process/event if you invited children into a performance or work space and explicitly welcomed them to move around, make noise and be themselves. You may find that you are able to welcome different kinds of audience participants into more diverse spaces.
In Canada, there are legal obligations to support caregivers in the workplace, as well as laws against caregiver discrimination. This primer from The Canadian Human Rights Commission is a good place to start.
Examples of projects with caregiver accessibility
- Theatre Direct offered free childcare for children ages 0-12yrs, during the Relaxed Performance matinee of The Election at Theatre Passe Muraille. Details were made available on their website.
- Secret Life of a Mother offered two performances with free childcare during their Theatre Centre run in 2018.
Links and resources
- Balancing Act is a National organization that supports artist caregivers working in the performing arts. It is a Theatre Direct initiative in partnership with over 20 arts organizations across Canada. They advocate for artist caregivers and are testing strategies for caregiver support in the workplace.
- The Parent Artist Advocacy League for Performing Arts and Media (PAAL) is a “national community, resource hub, and solutions generator for individuals with caregiver responsibilities and institutions who strive to support them”. Based out of the United States, they offer compassion training, consultation and resources like their online Handbook.
- You may wish to speak to a few different Insurance companies specialising in insurance coverage for the performing arts to understand your insurance needs when providing childcare in its various forms.
- A straightforward guide that offers suggestions on How Not To Exclude Artist Parents
- Susie Burpee’s Disappearing Act: Dance Artist Mothers in the Gig Economy of the Performing Arts in Canada is both a first-person narrative and a survey of artists across the country about barriers they have experienced and envisioning new ways forward for artist caregivers.
- CADA West has launched a new program called The Childcare Subsidy Pilot Program (CSPP). CSPP is available to Professional and Emerging CADA members. It provides financial support for the cost of childcare incurred while training, rehearsing and/or performing.
- "Is it possible to make a living in the theatre industry where stability doesn't exist?": A CBC Arts Article with Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, creators of the hit show Mouthpiece (April 2020)
Working Towards a Care-centred Practice
Supporting caregivers eases the tremendous socio-economic burden placed upon them in the arts, an industry that relies heavily on precarious work with little resource support. In shifting from a framework of “it’s not my problem” to a framework of prioritizing support and care for colleagues, we make space for artist caregivers to be able to practice their craft and invest in an economy of care.
“When an institution develops practices that support parent artists, the application of these practices develops structural principles that have the potential to translate to all employees and contracted artists, regardless of parental status. Principles such as work-life balance, social disadvantage, schedule and budget flexibility, expectation adjustment for illness, grief, and birth, all require a willingness on behalf of the institution to recognize the humanity of the individuals contributing to the work created within its scope.”
(Parent Artist Advocacy League Handbook)