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 fifty-eight artists to enter a grueling 10-day competition filled with challenging landscapes, climate, and stress. This year, the festival will add 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 will focus 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, the region’s behavioral health and rape crisis center, and the Avalon have partnered a lot over the last 18 months for several events 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, President and CEO of For All Seasons, during the Plein Air Easton orientation for artists, For All Seasons will offer artists, staff, volunteers, and visitors a variety of tools to help with the stress of the festival. Free materials will include a fan and a handout on box breathing, a technique useful to help calm anxiety and nervousness. There will also be short online videos in English and Spanish available on the web page
https://bit.ly/FASMentalHealthMinute, featuring For All Seasons Mental Health Minutes and other relaxation techniques.
For All Seasons will also offer 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 nine months. For All Seasons staff will be ready to assist any artist who needs to be seen during the festival.
At its Tilghman Island site, For All Seasons staff is also providing wellness resources and cookies and lemonade for any artist, staff, volunteer, or visitor who wants to stop by. Jane Gordon, one of the For All Seasons’ art therapists, will be 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. After the fact, the Avalon Foundation is going to do a recap podcast with Dorman and another one of the For All Seasons art therapists to continue the dialogue on mental health.
“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.”
For All Seasons started reaching out to its community in a whole different way before COVID but offered more outreach during COVID. The organization is continuing to ensure that mental health is intersecting with the region’s business and nonprofit professionals, making sure that people have access to and an understanding of how mental health truly does affect us all.
“We have created a conversation acknowledging it’s okay if you’re struggling, and you don’t always have to have the answers for someone who is struggling. We recognized as an agency eight or nine years ago that being a mental health agency isn’t always about people coming to us and that the only way that we can truly blanket our community with mental health services and mental wellness is to go to our community and serve them,” Dorman adds.
“We’ve created an outreach and event programming that says For All Seasons is your community behavioral health and rape crisis center. This is a perfect example of how partnerships can be formed in a grassroots way because we’re both thinking outside of the box, and both saying how can we make this community healthier and make it a safe space for everyone to talk about mental health and mental wellness. We do it better together.”
“We have a real desire to begin to weave the mental health conversation into everything that the Avalon does. This is a micro example of what I hope to be a much larger partnership with For All Seasons. There are so many occasions when any business needs additional help dealing with mental health crises. With For All Seasons, our shared desire is to incorporate mental health support in all of the Avalon Foundation programming, whether it’s messaging in the Green Room or making sure that we are working on reducing stigma and providing access to everyone who uses our facilities. We serve a lot of children and a lot of community members, and we need more help,” adds Bellis.
For All Seasons provides the highest quality mental health and victim services to children, adults, and families across Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Services are offered in both English and Spanish and include therapy, psychiatry, victim advocacy, 24-hour crisis hotlines, outreach, and community education. For information about For All Seasons walk-in hours, contact For All Seasons at 410-822-1018 or visit ForAllSeasonsInc.org.
Founded in 1994, the Avalon Foundation is a 501 (c)3 charitable organization that began as a community theatre and has grown into the largest arts organization on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The Foundation’s mission is to Inspire, enrich, and connect diverse audiences through arts, educational, and cultural experiences inside the historic Avalon Theatre and throughout Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Plein Air Easton is the largest and most prestigious juried plein air painting competition in the United States. It is a project of the Avalon Foundation, Inc. and is held in Easton, Maryland each July.