Image courtesy of Studio 303.

What is burn-out?

We are beginning Creative Resilience, our new mini-series on arts and health, with an open discussion on burn-out. Burn-out, a word increasingly familiar in creative industries, is not just synonymous with exhaustion, but describes the specific mix of exhaustion, cynicism, and professional inefficacy that is usually a product of overwork.

Burn-out is common in industries where “the work is the passion”. Artists are often paid little and work precariously, and demand is often high while the resources to meet it are scarce. In arts organizations, funding is almost always tenuous and dependent on political whim, making it difficult to support the individual artists navigating these conditions, while reproducing the conditions for burn-out within the organizations themselves.

Solutions to burn-out often place the onus on the individual: recognize the signs of burnout and work to mitigate it, take time away from work. But what does “time away” look like when the work is the passion? And when the work is the passion, what are the effects on identity from both the cynicism and inefficacy of burn-out, as well as the act of taking time away to mitigate it? And how do we find permission to take time away when wages are already low and work is already precarious? Beyond the individual, we are curious about the communal, structural changes necessary to mitigate burn-out. If burn-out is the product of overwork, then how must we renegotiate our understandings of work itself?

What is a Performative Discussion? 

To explore these questions, we will join Studio 303 in holding a “Performative Discussion”. This format is borrowed from Lois Weaver’s Long Table, and is created by the placement of a long table (anyone seated at it may speak) surrounded by unlimited chairs for observers (anyone may move from speaker to audience member when and as they wish). Beyond a few opening prompts, this format requires little facilitation and allows the conversation to move naturally. Through it, we hope to bring together and make sense of communal experiences of burn-out, precarity, and the arts.

Creative Resilience

Creative Resilience is a mini-series that responds to years of formally and informally discussing the unique ways that artists experience health and healthcare. Combining community conversations about structural barriers to artists’ health with tangible tools and workshops, we are beginning the series with an open, participatory discussion of burn-out in collaboration with Studio 303. To RSVP to “Performative Discussion: burn-out”, please email



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ELAN is an official minority language organization within a country that recognizes two languages as official. ELAN is located in Tiohtiak:ke, the original name for Montreal in Kanien’kéha, the language of the Mohawk—also known as Mooniyang, which is the Anishinaabeg name given to the city by the Algonquin. While we are based in this city, our projects have also taken place in many regions across Quebec.

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