Americans for the Arts and a coalition of 20 national arts organizations are calling on Congress to fully recognize the rights of individual artists and arts groups in the health care reform debate. On August 13th, they issued the following statement in support of comprehensive healthcare reform:

“As national arts service organizations representing thousands of nonprofit arts organizations at the state and local level as well as serving thousands of individual artists across the country, we call on Congress to pass a health care reform bill. The current economic crisis has affected the cultural sector as dramatically as it has the millions of unemployed and uninsured Americans. Like others who have fallen through the cracks of the current system, many in the cultural workforce work independently or operate in nontraditional employment relationships, leaving them locked out of group healthcare coverage options.

Additionally, soaring health care costs are consuming the ever decreasing budgets of nonprofit arts organizations hit hard by today’s economic recession. The time for reform that delivers high quality and affordable health care for businesses and individuals is now. We call on Congress to pass:

*A health care reform bill that will create a public health insurance option for individual artists, especially the uninsured, and create better choices for affordable access to universal health coverage without being denied because of pre-existing conditions.

*A health care reform bill that will help financially-strapped nonprofit arts organization reduce the skyrocketing health insurance costs to cover their employees without cuts to existing benefits and staff while the economy recovers. These new cost-savings could also enable nonprofit arts organizations to produce and present more programs to serve their communities.

*A health care reform bill that will enable smaller nonprofit and unincorporated arts groups to afford to cover part and full-time employees for the first time.

*A health care reform bill that will support arts in healthcare programs, which have shown to be effective methods of prevention and patient care.

There is little time to waste as a broken system continues to leave far too many behind and adds trillions to our national debt. Millions of cultural workers stand ready to assist our leaders with solutions that protect all Americans and its creative sector with guaranteed universal insurance coverage deserving of the wealthiest nation in the world.”

Makes sense. Except, perhaps, for that last bullet point, which departs from the economic issues surrounding artists, art professionals and health care to suggest that art itself should be considered part of the health care “cure.” That, as the L.A. Times’ Christopher Knight observed in an editorial written last week, is where the Coalition’s statement gets more than a little iffy.

While praising most of the Coalition’s statement, Knight rightly points out that its call for more arts in healthcare programs is mostly hooey (my words there, not Knight’s). In an August 13th editorial, he questions the degree of art’s efficacy when it comes to prevention and patient care, noting that

“Clinical art therapy might be a perfectly legitimate, even beneficial medical specialty. But whatever the case, when I want advice about a medical procedure, I’d rather ask my doctor than a national coalition of arts organizations.”

By trying to make art part of the healthcare solution, Knight argues, the group replicates “the therapeutic fallacy that plagues our sentimentalized culture” — in other words, the old bromide that “art is good for you.” Better swallow! What’s more, it may make it even easier for those who oppose health care reform to dismiss the Coalition’s overall point (for one, that artists are part of a larger group of working people who for various reasons don’t have adequate access to health care) and focus instead on their push to add money for art in healthcare programs — you can imagine the glee with which some folks would tear into that one.

It’s a small point, to be sure, but as we’ve seen those little issues have a way of getting blown out of proportion, obscuring the finer points of critical debates like this one.

Read Knight’s editorial in full here.

Claudine Isé

Claudine Isé has worked in the field of contemporary art as a writer and curator for the past decade, and currently serves as the Editor of the Art21 Blog. Claudine regularly writes for and Chicago magazine, and has also worked as an art critic for the Los Angeles Times. Before moving to Chicago in 2008, she worked at the Wexner Center in Columbus, OH as associate curator of exhibitions, and at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles as assistant curator of contemporary art, where she curated a number of Hammer Projects. She has Ph.D. in Film, Literature and Culture from the University of Southern California.