Artists, musicians, and volunteers trade their work for medical and wellness care at Kingston’s O+ festival.
A Festival With A Heart
The city of Kingston, New York, came alive as it hosted the 13th annual O+ Festival from October 6th to 8th. This unique event seamlessly combined artistic expression, soulful music, holistic wellness, and heartfelt celebration. But understand: The O+ Festival isn’t a typical arts and music gathering. It is an exchange of art for health and wellness services that provides the under-insured a means for treatment. At this year’s O+ Festival, musicians, artists, and volunteers traded their work for medical and wellness services. At the heart of the festival was the O+ Artists’ Clinic, where up to 150 healthcare professionals offered a wide range of services, from dental treatments to reiki healing.
The O+ Festival has its roots in 2010 when a collective of artist-activists, doctors, and a dentist came together with a unique vision – not just to bring music to the town but also to provide essential dental care. They bartered medical services in lieu of cash payment. Medical and wellness services range from dental to non-traditional Chinese medicine. The festival featured discussions, a parade, yoga, tarot card readings, bike rides, a mobile veterinarian, community art activities, a wizard themed treasure hunt, and kid’s Brazilian jiu jitsu.
In 2021, according to the U.S. Census, the uninsured rate in the United States varied by race, ranging from 5.7% for white, non-Hispanic individuals to 18.8% for American Indian and Alaska Native, non-Hispanic people. If you’re of Hispanic or Latino descent you’re part of a group that had one of the highest uninsured rates, at 17.7%. This matters, because O+ exists to fill the gap for under- or uninsured artists.
Private health coverage rates ranged from 43.1% for American Indian and Alaska Native, non-Hispanic people to about 74.2% for white, non-Hispanic people. Some groups with lower private coverage rates had higher rates of public coverage. Children living with their parents had the highest rates of private coverage in 2021, although less than half of Black, non-Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native, non-Hispanic, and Hispanic children in this category had private health insurance.
Ben Eichert, an underinsured artist, showcased his collection of documentorial photos, Mother’s I Lost, during the O+ Festival. His exhibition was featured at the O+ Clinic + Gallery. “I’ve been having trouble getting into a dentist, but this morning,” thanks to the fact that the festival had dentists in its clinic, “I was able to get a tooth pulled. I’ve been struggling to get [that] done for like a year and a half because I’m on medicaid. It’s either they don’t take medicaid or there is no endodontist,” Eichert said.
Health and wellness services were not limited to just artists and performers, volunteers were also provided. Kingston local and volunteer, Alicia Bennett, had her hand crushed by an applebox a year ago. Her surgery and recovery was postponed a year because she filed a claim through workman’s compensation. She volunteered to receive massage services, enjoy the festival, and to help out her community. “We live in times where money is tough, and insurance is not guaranteed,” Bennett noted.
Prioritizing Community Health
Alumni musicians like bassist Phoenix Roebuck and Trumpeter Scott Langley (of the band Brass Kills) come back year after year because they believe in the festival’s positive mission. “Health is such an important thing for all people,” Langley beamed. “It’s great to have an opportunity for a local organization that has the support of local people to celebrate music and arts and to benefit a good cause.” Roebuck echoed Langley’s sentiment, “I’m gonna try to be a part of O+ as much as I can, whenever I can, because it’s really an incredible thing for artists.”
Festival organizers joined forces with another organization that promotes issues relevant to Hudson Valley. The streaming service Hudsy Tv partnered with O+ to curate and screen local short-films. Each film coincided with O+ festival’s theme of health and wellness. Co-founder of Hudsy Tv, Laura Kandel, hosted the film screening at Community Space at The Kirkland. “So we are actually doing a screening of seven films that are very relevant that are Hudsy originals and from other local creators that are very relevant to the medical community, arts, and how they intersect,” Kandel revealed. This year Hudsy Tv removed the paywall from their streaming platform and is now a non-profit organization, “we are working to preserve the culture of the Hudson Valley, online and in person in an accessible way that anybody can partake in,” says Kandel.
A Stride Towards Sustainability
Over the years, the festival expanded, featuring notable artists like Kimbra and Camp Saint Helen, and one of this year’s headliners Amythyst Kia. The O+ Festival and the larger O+ organization extended their reach beyond Kingston, hosting similar events in Poughkeepsie, Chicago, Haverhill, North Adams, Petaluma, and San Francisco, uniting diverse communities and fostering a sense of belonging and well-being in various regions.
This year O+ established Exchange Wellness, PLLC, and by hiring a doctor to head the initiative the underinsured can now be seen for treatment year round. The festival has evolved beyond a three-day event and is making a lasting impact throughout the year. Prospective donors, artists, performers, health and wellness practitioners, and volunteers can find ways to help with O+ Festival’s mission on their website.