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ArtDocs 2009 

ARTDOCS provides health care assistance to artists

ARTDOCS Benefit Art Auction

6:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Thu., Nov. 19

Hefler Warehouse, 851 Magazine St.;


Daughters of Charity at St. Cecilia Medical Center

4201 N. Rampart St., 827-2833;

click to enlarge Gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara and Dr. Sarat Raman oversee ARTDOCS - services to artists in need of health care. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • Gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara and Dr. Sarat Raman oversee ARTDOCS services to artists in need of health care.

Artist Dan Tague is one of more than 55 artists who contributed work to be auctioned in a fundraiser for ARTDOCS, the nonprofit organization that assists artists in need of medical attention.

  "I have a piece called Fat of the Land in the auction," Tague says. "I have donated a piece [to ARTDOCS] every year since I used it."

  While he was pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at UNO, Tague had no health insurance. When he injured a shoulder, he didn't know where to turn. Fellow artist and gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara directed him to ARTDOCS (Artists Receiving Treatment Doctors Offering Crucial Services), which Ferrara had founded with Dr. Vincent Morelli, then a physician at the LSU Family Medicine Clinic at Kenner Regional Hospital.

  "In 1999, I was doing a show with Roy Ferdinand Jr. at my gallery," Ferrara says. "I'm installing stuff and he's telling me that he's in bad shape — stomach problems. But he had no health insurance."

  After a conversation with Morelli, the two started looking for a way to provide assistance to artists. Many of the artists they knew had no insurance and very little income. Ferdinand later died of stomach cancer.

  "We thought, this is crazy," Morelli says. "These artists help us see the world we live in. This is no way to treat them — letting them go without medical care.

  "The same can be said for a lot of uninsured people. But this is one place where we can make a difference."

  They soon created a plan to allow artists to get treatment from Morelli and his residents at the clinic at Kenner Regional Hospital, which quickly agreed to eight free visits per week. Morelli says the clinic supported 250 to 300 artist visits annually. An inaugural benefit at Tipitina's raised $5,000 to support the program.

  The last fundraiser was held in 2004. After Hurricane Katrina, it still had funds to operate and later received a grant from the Idea Village. Since 2007, ARTDOCS has offered treatment at the Daughters of Charity Clinic in Bywater. Fees are determined on a sliding scale, but many qualify for free care. Artists, writers and performers are eligible for ARTDOCS if they are uninsured and earn less than twice the national annual poverty level, which is roughly $10,300.

  Besides helping artists, one of the benefits of the original program at Kenner Regional Hospital was to get doctors to connect with the community, Morelli says. Two residents in his program, Sarat Raman and Coleman Pratt, are now the physicians running ARTDOCS at Daughters of Charity, offering a full spectrum of primary and preventative care. Raman had returned home to West Virginia after his residency, but moved back to New Orleans in 2007, in part because of his interest in the culture of the city. He also serves as ARTDOCS' medical director and sits on the board of directors.

  "The main thrust of this is to provide access to health care to the artists of New Orleans who don't have health insurance," Raman says. "On the administrative side, we are looking to expand the network of physicians who participate. So if someone needs to see a specialist, we can continue to offer care."

  Morelli moved to Nashville in 2007 but spends one week each month in New Orleans. He teaches at Vanderbilt University and Meharry Medical College, and just initiated an extension of ARTDOCS in Nashville in October.

  The auction will provide support for the local program. Artwork was donated by a wide range of contributors including Prospect.1 participants, artists represented by Ferrara's gallery and past ARTDOCS treatment recipients. There are pieces by Douglas Bourgeois, Mel Chin, Tony Fitzpatrick, Skylar Fein, Paul Villinski, George Dureau, James Michalopoulos, Dawn Dedeaux, Jacqueline Bishop, Robert Tannen, Sandy Chism, Thomas Mann, Auseklis Ozols and others. The event features music spun by DJ Soul Sister, plus entertainment by aerialists and fire spinners.

  "At its core, it's artists helping artists," Ferrara says.

  But there are other benefits as well.

  "The fundraiser helps to raise awareness," Raman says, referring to getting the word out about services offered. Many artists learn about ARTDOCS through word of mouth, but Raman also screens patients at the Bywater clinic to see if they are eligible. He hopes the event attracts more physicians who want to participate.

  Ferrara also relates the program to support for broader initiatives.

  "It's all part of the cultural economy," he says. "You have to have a healthy culture. You have to have healthy artists who can contribute."

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