While I watch the 1% and corporations get richer and more powerful as the rest of us continue to struggle during the worst economic time in our nation’s history since the Great Depression, I have turned to my own art to not only help me make sense out of all of this, but for comfort and release.
My art has always gotten me through the tough times in my life, even when I was a child. It certainly has benefitted me for the past two years with the creation of my latest cartoon strip, ART (cartoons about my favorite subject, the arts, many of which have been published right here on the NoHoArtsDistrict.com website!) and three different series of new paintings; National Parks, California and “American Portrait” (political satire combing cartooning and painting).
I’ve also managed to keep my Valley based arts education nonprofit (Arts in Education Aid Council) going during this time, but at a great personal cost. The stress of keeping it going during the recession while I try and keep my own family out of bankruptcy has taken its toll. My health has suffered and now I’m in the fight of my life as I battle stage 3 breast cancer.
What complicates my having to deal with being diagnosed with cancer is that I have found myself at the center of a national debate over an op-ed piece that I wrote in the Los Angeles Times on December 8, outing myself as a broke, middle class, middle aged mom stricken with cancer, without health insurance.
The worst day of my life turned into the best day of my life when I discovered that I qualified for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Even though I was so distraught about having cancer, I was grateful for the second chance at life by finding out that I qualified for PCIP (Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan). I felt compelled to share my story so that others in my same situation would find the help they needed. While I was at it, I felt I needed to publicly apologize to my president for turning my back on him. I had been so stressed out and hurt by what had become of my country, my state, my city, my school district and my little nonprofit, that I checked out, out of self preservation. It was wrong to do that, and I regret it.
I have written other local op-eds over the past 12 years. Some of them were controversial enough to stir the pot and get people talking. That gave me some experience with creating public debate over my written words. It didn’t, however, prepare me for the national wildfire that would spread across the country on December 8. Cancer or no cancer, I had to deal with overnight fame; not for my own accomplishments as an artist, or for my advocacy work on behalf of arts education, or for my public school activism. I was famous for being uninsured.
Now that I am receiving treatment, I have made it a personal goal to really understand affordable health care in America. I’ve started a new blog, “Health Hazards,” to chronicle my discoveries as I learn more about the century old debate on national health care. What I have discovered so far has been a surprise to me. What Obama is trying to do for us is nothing new (nearly all Democratic presidents have attempted some sort of health care reform, but have been shot down by the same opposition groups), but what he has managed to accomplish so far is new.
Those of us in the art world know all too well what it’s like to live without health insurance. Before any of us find enough commercial success as an artist, we scramble to get by, hopefully making enough money to live on with our own art, but if not, working at some sort of part-time job that will allow us to make enough to cover the bills, while giving us enough time to make our art. Single artists have a tougher time of it, because they don’t have anyone with whom to share living expenses. If you can’t make it financially as a full-time artist, or by working part time, then some artists are forced to work some sort of full-time job that leaves little time for making art. In all three situations, health insurance is usually unaffordable.
Nor is it within reach for smaller arts nonprofits. Smaller theatres and arts groups run on shoe string budgets with one or a few people doing most of the work. Most nonprofits do not have a steady stream of income which allows them to hire salaried employees and offer them benefits. Instead, many rely on volunteers and independent contractors to keep going.
It’s not unusual for artists and arts nonprofit leaders to endure criticism from non-arts people who see us as naïve, irresponsible or immature because we aren’t focused on making money, acquiring a lot of things and keeping up with the status quo. We’re used to it, and we aren’t too bothered by it, because we know that critics just don’t get it. They don’t understand that we do what we do because we LOVE what we do. What we’re not used to, however (as the debate for national health care gets uglier), is being looked down upon and judged by some as being unworthy of decent health care because we don’t make enough money to purchase it. It’s bad enough that these people don’t value what we do as artists, producers or leaders, or that they don’t value the arts in general in this country, but to say that we should be doomed to die if we get really sick because we can’t afford the exorbitant costs of health care? That’s despicable.
Soon after I got the news that I had cancer, I had my work in a show at the Rico Adair Gallery during the NoHo festival in November. As I walked the streets of NoHo, I passed many beautiful, young, talented, idealistic artists and art lovers on the street. I thought to myself, “Not many of them have health insurance either. They’re all young. They don’t make as much money now as they will later. Whatever jobs they do have probably don’t pay much, and they most likely don’t have benefits. Yet, they are all so carefree! They aren’t burdened by the future.”
That night, walking amongst the many people of NoHo, I envied their youth. Not so much for their beauty, talent and energy, but because they weren’t consumed with worry over getting sick and not having health insurance. In fact, they didn’t seem to be worried about anything. That night was all about the moment. It was all about the arts!
As it should have been. They shouldn’t be worried about all of this. They deserve their youth and America needs their energy, talent and enthusiasm. They shouldn’t have to get old with worry in their 20s.
So let me worry for them. As I continue on with my research (and fight!) for affordable health care for all – I will keep young artists in my mind as America’s, creative, bright, young hopefuls. They should continue to be able to be creative, bright and hopeful, without the unnecessary burden of worrying and stressing about a bleak future. The future should remain wide open for them, as it has for past generations.
As far as the arts nonprofit leaders go, I will keep them in mind, too, as I move ahead because we need them! We need them to keep producing great art, even if some take it for granted. We need them now more than ever, because too many of us are feeling hopeless and afraid. We need the arts to uplift us and give us a break from the harsher realities of our time.
I’m going to be doing a lot of research, blogging and speaking out this year. I welcome your help! I want to encourage the arts community to get engaged in our democratic process. Apathy and creativity don’t mix, so rally and get energized about this upcoming election. Don’t let the status quo kill our hope. Vote!
Spike’s personal website: www.spikedolomite.com
Spike’s nonprofit website (Arts in Education Aid Council): www.aieac.org
Spike’s blog about the arts and education in LA: http://musthaveart.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=1
Spike’s blog about affordable health care: http://highdeductibles.blogspot.com/2012/02/net-worth-of-every-american.html
Like the above cartoon….Take a look at her art book -136 cartoons from Spike’s latest cartoon strip, ART, about art, artists, musicians, actors, dancers, artists as kids, art history, and the business of making art.