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Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Arts
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"Arts" is an all-inclusive category encompassing virtually all forms of creative expression. Among its major disciplines are: music, theatre, literature, visual art, spoken word, film and video, and, increasingly, the internet.
The Context
Countless artists, writers, and performers work in New York City every day. Together with their audiences (both homegrown and far-flung) they constantly define and redefine New York City's creative landscape, making it an unparalleled cultural feast.

The City of New York administers a wide-ranging network of programs and subsidies to support the City's artists and arts institutions. The Department of Cultural Affairs estimates that there are more than 1,200 nonprofit arts organizations in the five boroughs. Cultural Affairs provides partial support to about five hundred such groups. For FY2000 arts support will exceed $100 million. Including capital expenditures for future projects, that figure rises to upwards of $300 million.

The Reporter
Martha Hostetter writes for American Theatre magazine.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Arts.

by Martha Hostetter

Artists And Health Insurance

The nation's looming health care crisis -- 40 million without health insurance, insurance premiums rising, and benefits being reduced -- has made headlines of late. The most startling news is that, in the midst of a recession, health care costs are expected to rise between 13 and 16 percent in the next year. Like many New Yorkers, artists are already beginning to experience changes in their access to health insurance and care.

By some estimates, four of every 10 artists lack health insurance, compared with 14 percent of the total population. This is not because artists are unemployed, however. Like the vast majority of the uninsured, artists tend to lack insurance because they work for employers who do not offer health care; the sporadic, project-based nature of the working artist's career is a major hurdle to health insurance. This is not news to the many actors, musicians, painters, and dancers who keep the day job as much for the benefits as for the steady check.

Complicating this factor, according to a new report from the Future of Music Coalition, is the fact that artists are often considered by insurance companies to be a "risky" population. Whether because of their long hours, frequent travel, repetitive stress disorders, and such job hazards, or because, as the coalition's report suggests, because of an anti-arts bias based on the "hypothesized decadence of art culture," the reality is that it is hard for artists to get access to coverage on their own, even if they could afford the high premiums charged for individuals. In 2002, premiums for the major individual health plans serving New York ranged from $400 to $500 per month for individuals and well over $1000 per month for families.

Major arts unions like the Writer's Guild of America, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the American Federation of Musicians, and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers form a safety net for many artists by offering subsidized group health coverage. However, unions are now feeling the same pressures that are causing employers to pass on more of the costs of health insurance to their employees. (In a Commonwealth Fund/Health Research and Educational Trust survey published last month, the majority of New York State employers said that they plan to pass on more of the costs of health insurance to their employees next year.)

The Screen Actor's Guild has already announced that, starting in January, they will begin to charge enrollees a monthly premium for the first time, either $50 or $65. The benefit plan will also become less generous, charging higher deductibles and copayments and covering fewer services. The change that will affect the most members is that eligibility requirements will be substantially tightened. In 2003, actors will have to earn $20,000 to qualify for one plan or earn $9000 or work 61 days to qualify for another. These changes, the union trustees say, are absolutely necessary to prevent health costs from eating through its assets within the next two years. In May of this year, the guild extended Rule One, which requires that producers dedicate 13.8 percent of actors' salaries for health and pension plans, to all productions worldwide in another effort to shore up the health plan's funding.

Health care is a more pressing issue now because of rising costs, but the arts community has long been advocating for improvements to access to health care for artists. The explosion of HIV/AIDS in the arts community in the 1980s galvanized many to fight for better health care for the dying; now Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS helps those living with the virus. In the mid-1990s, New York-based Actors' Fund won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to mount the Artists' Health Insurance Resource Center, a central clearinghouse that educates artists about health insurance options. The online database provides information about group health plans, federal and state public programs, options for the self-employed, and advice on how to get and keep insurance. According to James Brown of the Actors' Fund, the recently redesigned website gets about 650 individual users a day, half of which live in New York City.

Since 2000, the Actors' Fund has also been running the Physician Volunteers for the Arts, which serves the uninsured and underinsured members of the performing arts community. Free clinics staffed by volunteer physicians provide basic health services and referrals for specialized treatment.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky is sponsoring a bill in the state legislature that would pay for 50 percent of the COBRA premium for up to six months for eligible members of the entertainment industry. COBRA, or the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, guarantees employees leaving employer-sponsored coverage the right to buy into that coverage for up to 18 months. While the law provides continuity of care, its premiums -- around $350 for individuals and more than $1000 for families in New York in 2002 -- prove out of reach for many, particularly for those who have recently lost their jobs. Brodsky's bill would subsidize 50 percent of COBRA coverage to qualifying members of the entertainment industry (e.g., screenwriters, actors, musicians, dancers) for up to six months.

Such measures, while crucial, may only be damage control. Increasing problems with access to and continuity of care in the arts community are one more sign that major legislative reform to the health care system is needed.

Favorite Sites For Beginners:

  • NYC Department of Cultural Affairs - Official NYC site sings the Mayor's praises as champion of the arts; details a funding policy clearly weighted towards the city's largest cultural institutions; and explains services offered (e.g. Materials for the Arts, and DCA's Artist's Certification Program). Check out Percent for Art, NYC's program for art in civic spaces, where you'll find great images of work by Vito Acconci, Mel Chin, Alice Aycock and many more.
  • New York State Council on the Arts - Committed to maintaining New York State's culture, NYSCA accomplishes its goal by making grants to non-profit arts organizations. Like the DCA and NYFA (see below), NYSCA is very supportive of those programs which marry technology and the arts, as well as arts-in-education "partnerships". Much emphasis on multiculturalism, decentralization and special opportunities for "the underrepresented". Surf this site to find out where NYSCA's dollars are going and why - as well as how to apply for funding.
  • New York Foundation for the Arts - Statewide service organization, set up by NYSCA. NYFA supports thousands of artists, non-profit arts orgs and arts-in-education initiatives throughout New York, offering fiscal sponsorship, workshops, loans, fellowships, in-school artist residencies and more. Info-rich site but a bit tedious to navigate. Super links! See also Artswire, NYFA's brainchild and now the nation's premier online communications network for the arts.
  • Local Arts Councils in NYC - Check out theBronx Council on the Arts, Brooklyn Arts Council, Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island, Harlem Arts Council , Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Queens Council on the Arts for the skinny on grassroots initiatives.
  • Center for Arts Education - Indy non-profit works closely with municipal agencies to administer ambitious $36 million, 5-year program aimed at restoring arts to public schools. Site details the 82 partnerships created since CAE's inception involving public schools and 135 arts groups.

Other Recommendations:

  • New York Women in Film and Television - Insider perspective on how the film industry works in NYC. Interesting series of open meetings about film and tv.
  • Third World Newsreel - Great site for searching by topic for films and video you may recall only vaguely. 30 year collection.
  • Harvestworks - Established for artists using electronic technology, but site is easy to use and should pique the curiosity of anyone interested in the arts. Calendar and good links to lots of other sites.
  • Meet the Composer - Offers listing of opportunities competitions for artists, and for the non-composer has a great series of conversations with composers.
  • Poets & Writers - A bit focused on the industry, but the Trivia question alone is worth visiting if you are a reader. Good resource page.
  • The Kitchen - This center for video, music, dance, performance and literature has real info on video. List of those it has sponsored, presented or worked with reads like a Who's Who of the video/music/performance combinations we now take for granted.
  • Theatre Development Fund - Group supports production of new play and musicals, but best known for the TKTS booth in Times Square. Advantage of the site, aside from telling you a lot more about theatre and TDF, is that you can get on their mailing list for discount seating if you are on the following "students, teachers, union members, retired person, performing arts professionals, the clergy, and members of the armed forces."

Visit the Topic Archives!

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