Thursday, March 25, 2010

Health Insurance & the Theatre Artist


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Brad Burgess.

The first important point about health insurance and thereby healthcare in our industry, is that even in the best unions, a minority of members qualify for their respective insurance requirements. (This is aside from the lack of representation for the majority of artists in our community who are not represented by the unions.)

In fact, the current arrangement is such, that if you work 8 weeks in Equity, 8 weeks in SAG, 8 weeks in AFTRA, for a total of 24 weeks, which is over the minimum requirement of weeks in one year for each of their plans, you would not qualify for any one those insurance plans. The lesson is, that even the establishment in our industry is unable to handle the health insurance of its members.

It’s important to note that all of those unions perform great services for artists, and really do have the best of intentions for their members. So, given their current situation is in sync with ours, there is an opportunity to work together from various angles with unions, government, and foundations included, while these problems seem clearer and clearer to us. Especially now that it is clear that the government is requiring insurance, it is indeed the responsibility of the industry leaders to assist and advocate on behalf of all the artists, as all of them are affected.

It starts from the top of it with the National Endowment for the Arts. If someone can explain to me how it is reasonable that through the economic explosion of the 90’s and early 2000’s, the NEA’s budget has actually dropped a couple million from its highest point in the very early 90’s, I would appreciate that very much! ha! That’s crazy.

This year it’s only 160 million, though for the first time it will be higher than the city of New York’s budget for the DCA because of a major budget cut that’s happening. But in recent years this city’s made more money available for the arts than the federal government. How did that happen? One city found a way to make more money available for the arts than the federal government.

...160 million for the arts industry while the congressional budget for its small business committee is 400 billion dollars… I mean, this is what we are dealing with, all of us, a complete and utter lack of money in the industry from the government, along with the financial problems of foundations and individual patrons.

The ones that are mass affected by this are the thousands of low income artists in this city that scrape and claw and hustle to survive without nearly enough money working its way into their hands for the work and responsibilities they handle. I can’t say enough about how impressive it is, the dedication of the individual artists all over the city that make their art and provide for many aspects of the culture. Many of them do this in addition to having families and full time jobs. I think this is likely a pretty nationwide phenomenon in the arts industry in regional and community theatres and arts spots everywhere in the U.S.

But it’s clear we have an advantage in this city with its perspective on culture from the residents to the businesses to the politicians and we all have a responsibility to make the best of it. We need to be hopeful and diligent and happily continue to work together as we are.

I’ve been working on organizing a push for a proposal, with the help and focus of many individuals. As of right now, so long as the bill pushes through without disaster, I will be working with the help of the policy writing team from Equity, and the gracious guidance of their national director of special programs who is a really cool lady if there ever was one. Speaking of, Olympia Dukakis and Judith helped me meet with many industry leaders and ultimately Flora at Equity, with whose help this idea can really tackle the necessary details of a proposal like the one we need.

The details of this proposal are pretty vague at the moment, but let me say that everyone I’ve talked to has been very supportive and sure that we can come up with something that really benefits everyone in the industry without disturbing the status quo for the people are comfortable and secure with it.

Stay tuned for more about it in the coming months, we’ll be asking for all the help and participation we can get. Please feel free to email me with interest!

Less politics and more art tomorrow.



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