Today I went to visit the Mount Sinai Roosevelt hospital to meet Robyn Glazer and to see the work they do with artists in the hospital. This is a re-sceduling of our Tuesday meeting because she became suddenly unwell, and unfortunately only one her artists is delivering today. There is so much that Robyn wants to tell me that it is quite hard to take it all in! She says that it is a very hard time for everyone at the moment, and particularly arts and health working with older people and within hospitals. Her work in Mount Sinai is funded because of the support of an Oncologist Gabriel Sara who is the Director of Infusion and as it happens also, Robyn’s consultant. She explains to me that Mount Sinai is a private hospital and is a very warm and friendly place to attend; this is evident from the number of people who greet her on our way up to Haematology and Oncology. She explains to me that there is a crisis in health care here and that private hospitals are dominated by ‘corporates, insurance and pharmaceuticals.’ She explains that people under the public health care system such as Belle Vue are 80% from immigrant backgrounds, and 50% are uninsured or underinsured. With Obama Care being cut things will get even worse.
She tells me that they work with 12 artists over 30 sites and that many of the artists work over multiple sites. That she recently got awarded a contract to work in a public hospital for a year through funding from the Beatrice Walters Foundation but that when it came to the signing of the final agreement it hadn’t happened, as the Health and Hospitals Corporation had had to lay off all of the middle managers due to a 1.8 billion deficit! She also tells me that any government funding they receive pays for the programme and not the overheads, and that public liability has gone up and that she has to pay $350 for each artist per year!
I get talking to Helen the artist who is working today. I actually see her do very little delivery but I assume that’s because we are visiting. It is very different from our work in that is has to be one to one and seems to be based around making; knitting, necklace making and so on, although I see some painting on the walls too. Helen came to New York fifteen years ago from the U.K. to do a Masters in Fine Art at Hunter College and has stayed ever since. She is involved in a programme funded through the New York Foundation for the Arts to mentor other immigrant artists. They meet three of four times and year. Helen’s main bread and butter is selling her art to big companies. She specialises in photographic prints. I ask her if she can show me some of her work, and it is very beautiful; city scapes superimposed with a ghost like quality drawn on tracing paper. Even her black and white photos taken on her phone during a residency in Swansea are beautiful!
They talk a bit more about funding and how ‘everyone is suffering at the moment.’ and tell me that Trump wishes to cut the funding to the National Endowment for the Arts and say, ‘The amount represents the same as his yearly budget for his weekends away in Florida.’, which is $3.4 million.
Artists are paid $30 an hour which is less than we pay our artists at Artlink and Helen tells me that her healthcare alone not including dentistry is $350 per month, and that is subsidised.
Later we visit an elderly Brazilian woman on the ward. She shows us pictures of her watercolour paintings on her phone; she is clearly a talented artist. ‘I am ninety years old’, she says. We are all bowled over, as she looks around seventy!
So, this is New York. When I set out on this journey I had no idea what an incredible experience it would be. I have learnt of the dedication of the people working in this field and the extremes of poverty and hardship alongside the contradictions of opulence and excess. More than anything, I have learnt what a real bunch of warm, interesting, and intelligent people the New Yorkens are!
Thank-you once again to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for the opportunity to undertake this Fellowship, and also thank-you to Artlink for helping me along the way. There has been a kind of magic in the way these past ten days have unfolded, and I realise now the WCMT are the keepers of the best kept secret, which is only released through the taking part of the journey.
Watch this space for the next phase!