New program lets artists make art for health care


How many hours would you spend painting to pay off a surgery? As part of a new program in the south Bronx, artists can paint, dance or sing to their heart’s delight, all to offset hospital bills.

The Lincoln Art Exchange, launched this month at the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, offers struggling New York artists without health insurance a barter system — $40 in health care credits for every hour spent creating art.

For example, if a dancer’s twisted knee lands her an overnight hospital stay, 125 dancing hours could pay off a $5,000 bill — once she’s back on her feet, of course. 

Most artists, however, simply need a doctor’s visit. Under low-income health programs, the cost for that can be as low as $15 for some.

Although many artists qualify for reduced-cost health care, through the new program they can also barter to pay with skills, not cash.

Just this week, as many as 50 interested artists called to inquire about the program, including a doodle artist and a playwright, said Colette Barrow, at the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.

To help pay for their care, artists can facepaint for hospitalized children, read poetry or even lead yoga sessions for hospital staff, she said.

Many of these artists are juggling part-time jobs, Barrow said, or out of work following the end of a production. Some take their chances instead of monthly payments.

A similar program at Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn has attracted 400 artists since opening in 2005.

A City Council hearing today will discuss artists’ access to health insurance.

How does it work? 

Anyone uninsured who is making a living through creative means is eligible, from dancers to poets to musicians, hospital officials said. The money can be used toward a wide range of services like doctor visits, lab tests or emergency care.

“I’ve gotten phone calls from the whole gamut, from a clown to a photographer to more singers, actors,” HHC’s Colette Barrow said.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @alisonatmetro


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