Discussions by Domain: The Future Of Performing Arts Amid COVID-19
“We walk the walk of a great human service organization.”
Joseph Benincasa is the President and CEO of The Actors Fund. The Actors Fund is a national human services organization that helps professionals in performing arts and entertainment in times of need, crisis or transition through Housing, Health Insurance and Health Care, Employment Training, and Social Services/Emergency Financial Assistance.
The Actors Fund’s Current Mission.
Joe: “Most performing arts and entertainment professionals earn very modest incomes and can’t afford basic living necessities. Dancers have median income of about $20,000 a year, and just 25% are able to secure full time work. Actors have a medium income of only about $25,000 a year, and just 15% of them have full time work. Musicians and singers have a median income of only about $23,000 a year, and just 30% have full time work. So it is a community and industry that earns very modest amounts of money. The safety net that they need is generally provided by their unions, guilds, the producers of shows, but in large part by the Actors Fund.”
Joe: “How has that changed during the COVID-19 pandemic? What we’ve done is we’ve been able to keep all of our programs moving forward. When I say all of our programs, it focuses on direct financial assistance, helping people secure health insurance or keep health insurance, helping people find parallel or secondary work that’s appropriate during the pandemic, and then keeping all of our other programs moving forward.”
Joe: “Our nursing home, for instance, in Englewood, New Jersey, fortunately has a perfect rating by the state of New Jersey and five stars by the federal government, but that has taken a remarkable effort on part of our staff to keep everybody safe and sound. Now having said that, we’ve spent $15 million so far on direct financial assistance to about 12,500 entertainment professionals around the country. We are managing the relief funds for 13 unions and other associations engaged in film, television, and theater.”
Joe: “We’ve been able to raise an additional $34 million, all of COVID-19, all of which will be spent maybe by October or December. We’re going to be working very hard as navigators under the Affordable Care Act, our Healthcare Center in Times Square, and our tele-medicine programs. This will reach around the country to keep people healthy, to offset the cost of Cobra, to help them keep the insurance they have if they’ve got preexisting conditions which require sustaining the right team of doctors, or we’ll be helping people secure health insurance on the marketplace.”
A Hardworking Team.
Joe: “We have a remarkable team. I keep on saying the word remarkable, but it seems that we were built for this moment. We’ve built a strong organization over the years. We’ve had other experiences, whether in responding to Hurricane Sandy, what happened after 9/11 in the New York community and around the country, and what’s happened during work stoppages or economic downturns.“
Joe: “We walk the walk of a great human service organization. 85-86% of all the money we spend is spent helping people. We have a lean organization. We all answer our own phones and we all do our own correspondence. I think that’s more the order of the day than not these days, but we’re very proud of how we’re rated. We pay attention to GuideStar and to Charity Navigator, which has consistently ranked us in the top 1% of human service organizations.“
Joe: “We’re smart about how we help. A lot of our affordable housing development around the country, especially in Los Angeles and New York, has utilized the affordable housing tax credit to build housing. We did the largest tax credit deal back in ’96 when we, with Related Companies, built what is now called the Friedman Residence on West 57th Street and 10th Avenue.“
Joe: “Some friends of the Actors Fund got together the cast of Hairspray and they performed a fantastic Zoom production, that has been seen by millions of people, of You Can’t Stop The Beat. And you can’t stop the beat of the people around the Actors Fund who are working hard, volunteers and staff, to help entertainment and performing arts professionals.”
Joe: “What we often say during this pandemic, and we say all the time is that arts, tourism, and business are all interconnected. We work very closely with the tourist industry and all the art organizations around. When you think about the billions of dollars generated in New York City’s economy and Los Angeles County, Chicago, where we operate the taxes that are paid by the theater presenters, the 330,000 jobs in New York City and LA County that are combined together are an incredible source of employment.”
Joe: “The arts are an intrinsic part of the tourism industry, and we know that we all have to get back to work safely. I’m very proud of the entertainment community and what’s being done to help. I’m impressed that producers, studio heads, all the unions, they’re all focused on the science of getting people back to work safely.”
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