LAFAYETTE — Stage fright, anxiety, depression.
Making a living promoting and preserving the state’s culture comes with its own unique stresses, noted Kathy Richard, director of the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation Healthcare Initiative.
The nonprofit organization links the state’s cultural workers — musicians, artists, culinary workers and others who preserve or promote the state’s culture — to affordable health and dental care services.
Now, the agency is expanding its outreach to include behavioral health services with the help of an $18 million grant from the Foundation for the MidSouth.
“We have the medical thing down. Now we need to take care of their mind,” Richard said. “Our philosophy is mind, body and soul. You need to take care of the whole person.”
The nonprofit group is currently seeking mental health professionals — from social workers to psychiatrists — who are willing to partner and negotiate their fees.
The grant helps cover half of the cost of the patient’s visit.
So far, four professionals have signed on, Richard said.
The initiative is part of the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation created in late 2005 to help support the state’s cultural workers and economy after Hurricane Katrina.
The organization estimates that the cultural industry contributes $12 billion to the state’s economy with cultural workers making up about 8 percent of the workforce.
Many work low-income jobs and are uninsured or underinsured, but they can seek help from the Healthcare Initiative — its services are open to any cultural worker, Richard said.
The program’s service zone is from the Texas border to the Greater Baton Rouge area.
The initiative helps cultural workers access health services through referrals to quality, low-cost care, including federally qualified health centers that allow patients to pay for services based on their income.
The initiative also provides free blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings with the most recent screening held Tuesday in Baton Rouge.
“We want to get them before they get sick,” Richard said. “The whole thing is to keep them out of the ERs.”
Quaja Bell, a pottery and visual arts teacher at Centre for the Arts in New Roads, can’t afford health care on her own, so she went to the free screening at Tipitina’s Music Office Co-Op on Government Street in Baton Rouge.
“It’s been a little bit more of a financial challenge to keep that up every year,” said Bell, 36.
Bell was one of about 20 musicians and artists to visit Tipitina’s on Tuesday for the free screenings.
“I love the fact that they opened it to all artists and not just musicians,” Bell said.
Tipitina’s is a “statewide network of workforce development and job skills training centers for musicians, filmmakers, and other media workers,” according to its website. It is based in New Orleans and has offices in Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
Lacey McRight, Tipitina’s Baton Rouge manager, said the Healthcare Initiative approached her office about two months ago to host the screenings.
She said the foundation has also provided free health checks at Tipitina’s Lafayette location.
Many musicians and artists in Louisiana do not have health insurance, McRight said.
“You obviously have to help musicians in any way you can,” she said.
The mental health services are also needed, especially within the population the group targets, said Marce Lacouture, a musician who lives in Breaux Bridge.
“I know that programs like this can really make a difference between life and death for musicians of all ages,” she said in a phone interview from Highlands, N.C.
Lacouture shared a story of a young musician from Austin whose battle with depression ended with his suicide when he was in his 20s. His parents created a foundation that provides mental health and addiction recovery services to Austin area musicians.
“He was someone who could have been saved if someone had intervened with him,” Lacouture said of the young man.
Being on the road full-time — along with the physical challenges of repetitive motion injuries from pursuing one’s art — weighs on one’s mind, too, she said.
“How do you stay positive in the face of chronic physical problems? How do you stay connected to your family when you’re gone all the time? … That can be very mentally and emotionally draining,” she said.
Lacouture has even sought help so she could talk about her problems and find extra support.
“There should be no shame or embarrassment,” she said. “I think it makes you a stronger person when you ask for help.”
She has a unique perspective on the organization’s mission as the former coordinator of a local musicians health-care program that was developed into the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation-Healthcare Initiative.
“If they can develop a really good mental health program, it will help artists of all types deal with all the challenges of the phases of one’s artistic life,” she said.
Advocate staff writer Robert Stewart contributed to this report.