Photo by Staciann Photography, Dissonance: Mental Health and Music, 2014

OUR mission

Dissonance examines the intersection of creativity and wellbeing, working to create safe spaces, smash social stigmas, and shape education and business practices relating to mental health, addiction, and compassion in the arts. In short, we want to contribute to a healthier environment in the arts community. Collectively, we need to find new ways to support, sustain, and celebrate creativity.

why dissonance?

Dissonance is the tension - or even clashing - between two disharmonious elements. In both music and psychology, dissonance is the source of cognitive confusion, discomfort, conflict, or distress. People experience dissonance when they are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. Dissonance is:

  • The musician who has been sober for years but makes a living playing in nightclubs and bars.
  • The artist who believes they have to isolate to create but desperately wants to connect with others.
  • The person who thinks they have a problem but doesn’t know where to go for help.
  • The friend and ally who wants to offer support without saying or doing the wrong thing.

There is a romanticized notion that you must be in great pain to make great art. This myth has normalized destructive behavior amongst artists and fans, and created business practices that often perpetuate it. We often venerate artists that are troubled and unstable, and while saddened, are not always surprised when another creative soul loses their life to drugs or mental illness. 

Dissonance is an arts organization. It’s also a mental health organization. And a recovery support organization. It’s a healthy community for creative people.

dissonance history

Dissonance began in 2012 at McNally Smith College of Music. Co-founders Sarah Souder Johnson (at the time the Director of Counseling) and David Lewis (then the Director of Career Services) worked together to connect with individual students about holistic wellness and the stigmas sometimes attached to people in artistic roles. Dissonance: Mental Health and Music was born out of their desire to engage more students in a conversation about mental health and substance use. It started simply as a series of interviews and grew into a moderated panel of musicians who would tell their own stories of struggle, getting help, and adopting new behaviors. Dissonance is now a standalone 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission of contributing to a healthier environment in the arts community.


Dissonance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization run by a volunteer board of directors with experience in the fields of mental health, arts administration, marketing, management, recovery, education, advocacy, music, and theater. Contact Dissonance to learn about resources, offerings, and how to get involved.


Dissonance is a resource for artists, industry folks, educators, healthcare providers, and fans. We produce our own events and promote others, collect stories, and share insights from people with lived experience relating to our mission. 

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