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“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” – Jane Addams

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa 

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of leading a discussion about the arts at Civinomicon 2013. This conference was touted as a “civic hackathon”, with an end goal of creating numerous initiatives that would benefit the Santa Cruz County community. Those initiatives are currently being voted on by residents throughout Santa Cruz, whether or not they attended the event.

The format was interesting, the crowd diverse and engaged, and there was free ice cream and beer. It takes something very compelling to tear me away from my children on a Saturday, but this was definitely time well spent. I was asked to create a presentation that outlined the state of the arts in Santa Cruz County, identify challenges in our sector, and then to facilitate a discussion during which the group would brainstorm ideas that could help improve the arts in our community.

I followed this format, but I didn’t ask the group to brainstorm ideas that could help improve the arts. Instead, I asked the group to brainstorm ideas that would help strengthen our community through the arts. There is a very clear distinction, in my mind, between the two. For me, it’s the difference between treating a symptom – such as a headache – and instead focusing on the health of your body – such as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising, which in turn (in my case) prevents headaches. If we focus on how the arts can make the whole community thrive, then we have the opportunity to both make a major community impact as well as strengthen the arts.

Many ideas were generated, and the arts initiatives can be voted on here. As much as I enjoyed presenting at this conference, I would have loved to have joined some of the other conversations, on traffic, the environment, economic development, homelessness, public safety, and others. The arts have a role to play in all of those conversations, and we at the Arts Council want to be actively involved in solving the myriad challenges this community is facing.

To that end, I just got a phone call from a very kind reporter who asked, “Why is the Arts Council co-sponsoring a forum about Covered California and the Affordable Care Act?” And the answer is simple: there are many people in Santa Cruz County who lack health care insurance, or adequate insurance, and we want to help solve that. Many of these people in need are artists – innovators, creators, and designers. Artists of all kinds often are contract workers, or self-employed, with no regular paycheck, no benefits, and certainly no health insurance.

I’ve been there myself. For years, as a musical theater actor and performer, I jumped from job to job, show to show. In that life, paid vacation is unheard of, and health insurance – unless you are part of the union and happen to have worked enough in the past year to qualify – is a pipe dream. I lived my life for years avoiding going to the doctor and praying I didn’t get sick or injured. It’s no way to live, not for me, not for artists, not for anyone. Farmworkers, contract teachers, hospitality workers, the unemployed or underemployed, all should have the basic peace of mind that comes with decent health insurance.

Obamacare might not work for everyone, and certainly there have been challenges with it so far. But it will give many people who have spent years living in fear of a health catastrophe the opportunity to get insurance for themselves and their children. So, in concert with more than fifteen community service organizations, we are putting time, energy and money toward “Get Covered: A Public Forum on Affordable Health Care through Covered California”. This forum, which will be on December 7th at the Santa Cruz Police Department Community Room, will help educate folks about the new law and provide enrollment assistance. In our quest to find unlikely partners to do great work in this community, this certainly qualifies, and it’s gratifying to work with such a diverse group of smart people.

So while I love being asked to talk about the arts, and to engage the public on ideas that can help elevate the arts in Santa Cruz County, what truly excites me is finding ways that the Arts Council can support the health and vibrancy of this community. “Get Covered” is a step in the right direction.

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