Incorporating Trauma-Informed Practices in the Cultural Sector

Work in Culture Accessibility Blog Series written by Emily Gillespie: Incorporating Trauma-Informed Practices in the Cultural Sector
Prioritizing Access (Volunteers)Inclusive Workshops (Teaching Tips)Support ProvidersLeaders with DisabilitiesTrauma-Informed PracticesMeaningful Outreach

Witten by Emily Gillespie


This post is in-part informed by my work as an artist living with trauma, who also teaches and volunteers in art spaces, often working with people with mental health and addictions issues. This post isn’t about art therapy, rather about working towards making mainstream arts and cultural spaces accessible to more people, especially those who may find themselves excluded.

Thinking about trauma is useful for the arts and cultural sector because certain people and communities may experience greater emotional vulnerability. Trauma may be connected to experiences both as an individual, and in relation to families and communities. People who have experienced trauma might have a biological reaction to triggering situations (such as fight, flight, freeze, or dissociate) and their brain and body may disengage from the present.

A few things to keep in mind:

  1. Engaging with trauma-informed practices is about creating safer spaces for everyone.
  2. In addition to being in continual conversation with the communities you are working with, it is important to have an awareness of what topics may be triggering and think about what supports you can and can’t offer.
  3. There is no such thing as a totally safe space; people have different triggers, but we can work towards making safer spaces.
  4. People are experts in their own experiences, and often know what they need. Check-in with people (and yourself), and ask, never assume.
  5. Trauma-informed approaches will change based on the space; for instance, a trauma-informed approach to theater may draw on different practices than facilitation.

Suggestions for Trauma-Informed Arts

Please note that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to trauma-informed practices.  These are some general ideas, but change based on the day, group and activity.

  • Introduce people to the space. For example, where are the washrooms and emergency exits? Is there someplace quiet to sit away from the group? Is it possible for someone to leave the event and rejoin? Can people move around the room as needed? Are there fidget items? (Fidget boxes can be great for teaching spaces) (see inclusive workshops article #2).
  • Provide people with a schedule or structure for the event that includes breaks, so people have a framework for understanding how long they are being asked to be emotionally present. Find ways to check in with participants, staff and yourself.
  • Create group guidelines for safer spaces, or a community agreement where people, including artists and staff have the opportunity to express needs.
  • Structure activities so that people have the opportunity to participate at their comfort and risk level, for instance, are you asking people to share vulnerable information or touch in a group setting? How can folks participate at various levels of engagement without being excluded?
  • Is a grounding or mindfulness activity helpful? Grounding can be incorporated into a class, presentation etc. See the website Trauma Education Essentials by Dr. Colin Ross and Dr. Dana Ross, for handouts and more information:
  • How can content warnings be included? This is especially important to think about for live performances.  Content warnings can be listened in as many places as possible (written, oral, etc.). For more on content warnings:
  • If someone is triggered, is leaving the space possible? Consider giving folks time to leave after reading content warnings, ensuring there are clear exits, etc. Also note, that some people may choose to disengage from triggering content in other ways (such as looking at their phone) especially if they freeze when triggered or don’t want people to notice.
  • For sensitive subjects is it possible to have an active listener available?
  • Trauma sometimes shapes memory and processing, alternative formats are always welcome; for instance, is the information on a handout; can the power point be emailed?
  • Think about ways to check in with yourself and the group after events.
  • Are you working with vulnerable artists? Have you considered their needs, including sleeping arrangements and work schedule? Read Sarah Muehlbauer’s post:


A trauma-informed approach is about meeting people where they are at and providing supports when it is relevant. Having a trauma-informed approach is not about limiting art practices, rather it is about letting people engage on their own terms and decide what they want to do and how. This is also about understanding that people’s responses are often not about you, your art or the event. It’s important to be okay with people expressing emotions and acknowledge that self-care looks different for everyone. Anyone, including artists, administrators, etc. may experience trauma. 

For more on this topic, watch Emily’s webinar also titled Incorporating Trauma-Informed Practices in the Arts.


More blogs from this series:

Prioritizing Access (Volunteers)Inclusive Workshops (Teaching Tips)Support ProvidersLeaders with DisabilitiesTrauma-Informed PracticesMeaningful Outreach

Emily Gillespie is a Toronto-based author and disability consultant, who enjoys using art to talk about disability. Emily recognizes that disabled people have different experiences and through her work focuses on people’s individual needs. 

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