Artists & Doctors Create their own Healthcare Reform

By Carolyn Edlund


Insured and Uninsured


“Bartering the Art of Medicine for the Medicine of Art”

Healthcare news is dominating the airwaves and internet. With a political fight building up, and outcomes uncertain, many people without insurance are feeling frustrated and powerless. Artists often find themselves within this group, taking the risk that they won’t become ill or have an accident which could be physically and financially devastating.

Enter some artists from Kingston, New York, who got together with healthcare professionals in their area to plan a way to access medical care that doesn’t involve the government, insurance companies – or dollars.


Mural at O+ Festival


So innovative that it merited a TED talk, the O+ festival was conceived in 2009 with the idea of “Bartering the Art of Medicine for the Medicine of Art.” Artists perform or show their art at the festival, and receive “payment” with healthcare services.


“The O+ Festival could serve as a prototype for other cities to follow, not only in helping artists get better health care, but by bringing awareness to the health-related hardships artists face.” – Artist and Advocate Samantha Levin 

The festival, now in its third year, will take place on October 5, 6 and 7, 2012 (Columbus Day Weekend) in Kingston, New York which is near Woodstock. Science and Art will meet, bringing people together in a gratifying weekend which benefits all participants.


clinic at the O+ Festival


The O+ Festival website defines their purpose and vision:


In exchange for being here, musicians, artists and volunteers will receive a screening of their health needs in an on-site weekend clinic during the festival, plus vouchers for follow-up office visits, and case-by-case continued care as needed via participating non-profits and residency programs.

At the weekend clinic artists will have access to: General MDs, occupational therapists, physical and sports therapists, dentists, orthopedics, massage therapists, chiropractics, acupuncturists, addiction counseling, and other participating providers will be on board to address them the best they can, free of charge.

O+ Health’s long-term goal is to develop a model for all communities, wherein perpetual health care for artists can become a reality.

Note that volunteers are a large part of the success of the event; no paid staff is employed to put on the festival. Artists must be juried into the festival (apply here), but volunteers of all types are needed. Anyone willing to volunteer for at least four hours will receive health services. Donations and sponsorships are also being accepted.


Mural at O+ Festival


Get more information about participating by contacting the festival at [email protected]

Like the O+ Festival on Facebook

And follow on Twitter


Art Credit:  Mike Egan, Tom Cingel


  1. It’s an interesting practice. I had a gp years ago that would allow some form of barter for his low income uninsured clients.

    I wonder about the tax liability regarding barter, for both artist and doctor.

    FYI: my fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, offers up health insurance for all its members. Which means all the members of my art collective have access to affordable insurance should they need it. It’s a nice benefit to be able to offer.

    • Teri, I also thought about the tax implications of barter, since reporting is required. This concept is very appealing, because it acknowledges the value and importance of all the arts – visual, musical, performance, medical. Whether there is practicality or not, I can’t say -but I like what they are doing!~

  2. I like it too, for exactly the same reasons. I also like it because of the political implications as well (rubbing the nose of big business into new –not really new– alternative economic practices).

    • There is a refreshing directness in today’s economy as artists and others start to control their own commerce, networks and outcomes. In a strange way the O+ festival reminds me of how the gallery system is crumbling, in that the artist can creatively decide on their market, deal face to face with their “customers” but in this case is able to transform the product and the payment into a real, impactful benefit to their lives.

  3. Agreed. It’s a brave new frontier.

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