A little over a year ago, a small group of artists and healthcare providers conceived a plan to decorate Uptown Kingston with artwork that was wheat-pasted onto the exterior walls of businesses in the neighborhood. They invited musicians and performance artists from far and wide to entertain the community for three days in a row, and promised each of them the opportunity to be seen by a local medical or alternative health professional in return. A “MASH” unit was set up at the Kirkland Hotel, where primary care physicians, chiropractors, acupuncturists, physical therapists, massage therapists and nurses were available all weekend to give free attention to these uninsured working artists and performers.
The O+ (pronounced “oh-positive”) Festival had people trading “the art of medicine for the medicine of art” as proof of the possibility of getting basic needs met, with contributions going in both directions. Dr. Art Chandler, director of the Columbia Memorial Hospital Group in Hudson and one of the Festival organizers, points out that doctors – many of whom are artists and musicians themselves – recognize the importance of having a healthy community and want to give back to that portion of society who are underrepresented in the areas of insurance and healthcare. “Artists and musicians do contribute to the fabric of society by making it worth living in. It’s really a no-brainer to participate in this. We’re in healthcare to be of service; it’s the core of what we do.”
Even if you didn’t attend a concert last October, you might have seen Bonnie Marie Smith’s gigantic, anatomically correct heart plastered high above John Street, or Christophe Tedjasukmana’s huge photograph over Maxwell’s on Front Street, along with the many other smaller depictions of the human spirit done by dozens of other artists. And behind the public scenes, people were getting their teeth filled for the first time in years, and their carpal tunnel treated and their blood tested for a myriad of otherwise-ignored problems, with no strings attached – other than guitar and heartstrings, and perhaps stringy evidence of the intricate and intimate web by which we are all connected.
Once again the Uptown neighborhood is being adorned with works of art in preparation for an outrageously jam-packed weekend – October 7, 8 and 9 – of music, live performances and short films. More than 30 bands are scheduled to play at BSP, Snapper Magee’s, Elephant, Keegan Ales, the Stockade Tavern, Boitson’s and the Old Dutch Church. Like last year, O+ coordinators are asking for a donation of $25 for a wristband that will get you into any and all performances.
And there’s something for everyone in this lineup: Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea, the New Zion Trio, Mike & Ruthy’s Folk City, Pauline Oliveros, Willy Mason, Voodelic, Sgt. Dunbar & the Hobo Banned, DJ Grasshopper of Mercury Rev, Shana Falana, Hudson Pro Musica, Only Son, T. J. Kong & the Atomic Bomb, Marciana Jones, the Rick Altman Trio, Geezer, Heaven, Young Magic, the Black Hollies, Ev Darst, Szelrozsa, Ruin/Renewal, El Front, the Repeatos, the Virginia Wolves, Jeremy Mage & the Magi, Lost in Society, American Pin-Up, Two-Fisted Law and Jukebox Romantics. Plus, you can hear the spinning of expert deejays Jonathon Herrera and Ryan Smith, and Kevin Allison’s RISK: True Stories, Boldly Told.
The healthcare offerings to musicians and artists have expanded. “We paid a lot of attention to what people wanted last year,” says Chandler. “This demographic doesn’t necessarily have chronic illnesses – rather, things that could be paid attention to more immediately. In general, people need access to addressing immediate problems. The Institute for Family Health will set up a table with information on how to access local and community services like Planned Parenthood, living with AIDS, addiction counseling, pre-cancer screening. There are things out there. People are feeling pretty desperate, and we’re trying to give them a comfort zone, tighten up a net that they can fall into by knowing where access to healthcare is available.”
Additionally, the O+ Self-Health Seminar will feature presentations by certified yoga and meditation teachers – with backgrounds in social work, psychology and nutrition – for the general public on Saturday afternoon to explore new ways to deal with various issues such as emotional disorders, eating disorders, gender identification issues and others. Afterwards, breakout sessions for in-depth questions and answers, yoga classes and gong sound healing will be available. Taking their cue from the World Health Organization’s definition of health beyond the absence of disease or infirmity, they’ll address ways to maintain wellness in body, mind and spirit. The Self-Health Seminar is free with grateful appreciation for any donation made to O+.
The core group of O+ organizers – Joe Concra, Denise Orzo, Kevin Paulsen, Alex Marvar, Dr. Tom Cingel and Dr. Chandler – has spent the past 11 months improving on a good thing. They’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. In applying for non-profit status, they discovered that attaching themselves to an umbrella organization would support their needs better than spending money on completing the application process. Through association with Fractured Atlas, a fiscal sponsor to a multitude of art-related, health-related non-profits, all major donations will now be tax-deductible.
Community is built within the paradigms of giving and receiving, and of generosity and gratitude. Last year, O+ was able to make substantial post-Festival contributions to local food banks, after being supported itself by the donations of local businesses that provided food, space and other services during the Festival. This year Keegan Ales has brewed an “October Fest” beer in honor of O+. Blue Byrd’s Haberdashery & Music has created a cap with the O+ logo. Evolving Media Network is designing a QR [quick response] sticker to be attached to each of the artworks, which people can scan with their cell phones to tap into the names and websites of the artists.
The group also relies on a cadre of volunteers to produce the event, and offers a basic-level healthcare package to anyone who works for a minimum of four hours during the weekend, plus free admittance to all the shows. The project stands as a model of what people can do to build community and help themselves. Recently, O+ was contacted by the Society for Arts in Healthcare to do a presentation at that organization’s yearly conference, to be held in May in Detroit, Michigan. Chandler says that they hope to “contact a band and find a bar, put up some wheat paste, have the band play and find a dentist to clean their teeth a day or two before the conference, and then say, ‘Look, this is how you do it: You access the open-hearted goodwill in your community.’”
For tickets and more information visit www.opositivefestival.org, and contact Kaitlyn Doris to help out with hospitality, setting up, cleaning up, taking tickets et cetera at email@example.com.