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  • Kristine Leslie

Love On The Brain: Arts, Music, and Wellness

Having grown over the years, Opositive began as a small festival in 2010, is now a number of festivals in multiple locations across the country. The opening festival had about 1,000 participants show up and 25 providers. Most recently, the clinic is staffed with 175 volunteer providers, including but certainly not limited to acupuncturists; audiologists; chiropractors; dental hygienists; dentists; energy workers; gynecologists; massage therapists; naturopaths; nurses; nutritionists; podiatrists; psychiatrists.


Our featured guests were Joe Concra (painter/founding member/former executive director) and Holly Kelly (new executive director/hatmaker/queer chorus member), innovators of revolutionized care at OpositiveFestival.org. Joe describes Opositive(O+) as a 3-legged stool: art, music, and wellbeing, valuing each other and valuing the arts as equally as healthcare and then valuing the entire community along with it.


Serving as co-host on Thursday, May 28th for our second ever Community Coffee Talk (This is an ongoing series. You can register for June 11 here), Tamara Gatchell is Principal and owner of Cadence Creative, Inc., a firm focused on strategy, collaborative design, and creative community building. She is also a graduate of the Certificate in Creative Placemaking program.


Tamara warmly shared, “I love being a part of the national consortium because you meet the most interesting people.” (She and Andrea are both graduates of the class of 2019.)


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“First Question as artists: Why would the healthcare providers do this?”


Joe recollects that his parents and grandparents used to know their physicians . O+ emulates those close knit relationships through an exchange of art and medicine. As opposed to the archetypal meeting in a hospital setting, O+ is a pop-up clinic where you can have an hour with your caregiver and not worry about insurance. You pay by performing later that night. 40 large-scale murals have been erected since 2013 and as creative placemakers, they understand that murals are a huge tourist attraction, therefore benefitting the city as well.


“What we hear time and time again is this: We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t believe that it’s our mission to take care of people. And we value art and culture in our community because we want to live in a community that values arts and culture also. We want to take care of our artists. If we take care of our artists, then we live in a better place.”


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Ironically, Opositive planned on having a quiet year planning the company’s future and hosting their festival in Kingston in October. Holly admits that the pandemic uprooted the plan, but proudly stated that “[we] found ourselves so deeply rooted in the community that we are acting as active responders. [The Pandemic] positioned us to be an amazing resource for ourselves, artists, and community.”

The staff at Opositive are used to getting people the healthcare that they need and they saw that their community was in need of mental health resources. A mental health hotline, oriented to frontline workers, was established and included 3 formal therapy sessions. Therapists are now working the hotline from their in-house clinic and services have been extended to everyone in the community.


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Tamara: What have you heard from the providers when they come into this festival environment and provide care and they don’t have 8 minutes?


Joe: When you check into Opositive Festival, you get met right away with a greeter, then a nurse practitioner, then your first visit is with a primary care physician and then you circle around to everywhere you want to go... When you exit, you get a chance to sit down with a healthcare navigator, so we can offer a pathway to continuing care.


Joe shared a personal anecdote about an experience he had at a 2014 Opositive festival. After having seen a long line of performers out of the building, He zealously met with a physician over how many people must have been served, but then found himself shocked, when that particular doctor stated that he had in fact, only seen 4 people. “Well I did 6 hours, but I spent over an hour with each person and I really know I had an impact in changing their life.”


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Tamara: I love your logo… Where it says “apply pressure and elevate.” I think it’s both poetic and provocative... Do you see yourself in the political and activism realm and how so?


Holly: I think we are definitely a political/activist organization but we do it in ways that you might not necessarily recognize- Let's tear down the insurance system; Let’s envision a world where people get the care that they need...and art and music and let’s get people directly to doctors; It really is outside of the capitalist system that has been built. We’re thinking about what a better healthcare system can look like.


Tamara: You’re creating as you’re envisioning


Joe: If we were stagnant, we’d be dead...We’re activists because we’re activated.


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Katie Crosby from the University of North Carolina Wilmington Office of the Arts, joined the call from Wilmington, North Carolina (NC). She was invited, by Community Coffee Talk collaborator, Meghan Rutigliano, to chime in with some questions of her own.


Katie: How does the contract work?


Holly answered that there is a small stipend that they offer to musicians and artists, however money isn’t it. It’s people's time and passion that’s at the core.


Katie: How do you develop those relationships with healthcare professionals in other cities?


Hear Joe and Holly respond to this question and others from the audience in our latest podcast, provided below.

Like our podcasts? You'll LOVE our webinars.

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Board Chair: Colleen Finnegan Kahl

Founding Director: Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP

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