The Safety Side of the Visual and Performing Arts
By the CVPA Health and Safety Committee
The College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) is known for excellence in the arts, from performances to exhibitions. Most in our audiences are aware of the potential for compelling beauty and transcendence possible in the arts, but very few are likely to be as aware of the accompanying risks, both artistic and physical, that musicians, actors, dancers and artists manage every day. Creative production in the arts exposes faculty and students in the CVPA to a wide range of health and safety concerns, including physical injury and exposure to toxic chemicals.
Operating according to the belief that no performance or artwork is worth the cost of an injury or life, faculty and staff in the CVPA, while recognizing the value of general institutional safety plans, emphasize the need for policies and procedures specific to the disciplines in the arts. Faculty and staff in the School of Theatre & Dance and the School of Art have tailored the Texas Tech Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) to facilities in their respective programs. While the university often designates these facilities as "labs," they usually function more specifically as studios and shops. The School of Art has worked with the Department of Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) staff to develop a custom test module for the CHP as it applies to studio art labs, materials and processes. The School of Theatre & Dance trains faculty, staff and students in health and safety practices unique to their disciplines, including hanging and rigging, using power tools, and employing instruments of stage violence such as prop weapons. The School of Music provides health and wellness training for musicians.
Creating a "culture of safety," the CVPA faculty and staff actively promote safety awareness and guard against unsafe situations and behaviors. Supervisors encourage all faculty, staff and students to be alert to and report any unsafe conditions or actions without fear of retribution. We combine safety training with scholarly training. While each unit addresses the challenges that come with its disciplines differently, all three units share strategies with each other.
The School of Art utilizes Monona Rossol's Artist's Guide to Health and Safety (Allworth Press & Graphic Artists Guild, 2001, 3rd edition) as mandatory reading in all studio classes and the basis for the testing module which all art studio students must pass. Other strategies have been put into place. For example, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations prohibit eating or storing food in any location where toxic substances are used or stored; therefore, the School of Art has instituted the use of break rooms or areas outside of studios/shops. This has been a difficult change for students and faculty, as studio artists spend many hours working and teaching in individual and group studios, but it has proved to be an important step to ensure student safety. School of Art studio faculty also report annually on their activities to establish and maintain safe working protocols for creative activities.
The School of Theatre & Dance faces similar challenges to those of the School of Art. A performer's "instrument" is her or his body, so performance health training is an important offering in the school. For example, stage violence must be carefully choreographed to be performed safely and warm-ups are essential to prevent strained voices and cramped or sprained limbs. The School of Theatre & Dance is working with EHS to develop a customized training module to be added into CHP/Lab Safety training, and is also adopting a Monona Rossol book, The Health & Safety Guide for Film, TV & Theater (Allworth Press, 2000, 2nd edition). The school also developed supplementary training modules specific to their areas: dance, design/technology, performance and pedagogy, etc. Multiple daily work hazards unique to a theatre environment include the need for fall protection while using lifts and ladders, and moving overhead rigging. Any students wishing to gain experience in supervisory roles must take additional one-on-one safety training. The School of Theatre & Dance has extended their promotion of health and safety practices beyond the school itself by helping to train chemistry students to establish authority in their labs through proper communication and body language. The Dance program has also introduced new classes that address the health of participants and are geared toward the general student population.
The School of Music, concerned about the health, safety, and wellbeing of its students while maintaining compliance with the National Association of Schools of Music accreditation recommendations, distributes health and safety information and resource materials to all students in ensembles and applied lessons. Directors verbally address their ensembles regarding health and safety issues at the beginning of each semester. The School of Music helps to further the music-making life of its faculty, staff and students by instituting training sessions designed to help musicians learn to care for their bodies. For example, musicians are regularly exposed to high sound levels, which will damage hearing over time. Students are offered health and wellness sessions addressing proper hearing protection, vocal health, injury prevention and the dangers of repetitive motion. Students are informed of the relationship between the combination of sound or loudness intensity and duration which can lead to hearing loss over a lifetime of music-making if not controlled. Not only do earplugs protect hearing, they can also help musicians hear important details in their playing, and can simulate the way an audience member would hear the performance from a distance. Guest artists are frequently invited to the School of Music to provide training. Yoga for Musicians, Body Mapping, and Dimensions of Performance are among the wide variety of health and safety-related classes and workshops that are offered. In the fall of 2014, the Texas Tech University Goin' Band was treated to early-morning yoga sessions—perhaps a first for a major university marching band!
Although each unit addresses health and safety in ways unique to its disciplines, the oversight of health and safety practices, and the establishment of a culture of health and safety, falls in part to the college's Health and Safety Committee. The committee is charged with promoting health and safety across the college, and serves as a coordinating committee and advisory body to the dean for college-wide health and safety policies and procedures. It serves as a forum for discussion and information sharing between the units, so that successful solutions and implementations in one unit can be adapted to another. For example, the School of Art's adjusted training module provided by the Department of Environmental Health and Safety is being used as a template for more effective training in the School of Theatre & Dance. The Health and Safety Committee takes great pride in the strides that our schools have made in the personal wellbeing of faculty, staff and students. Our departmental safety officers are working hard to adjust policies and procedures to comply with university policies, and the committee continues to lead discussion of ideas and options as we make health and safety a priority in our daily work.