“ANY DAY MAKING A LIVING AS A MUSICIAN IS A GOOD ONE.”
Evan Christopher from a drab hotel that smells like a grandparent’s guest room (unused, save for the family dog), on a day that couldn’t possibly be.
In the shadow of the House of Bultman Funeral Home, or, as it’s now called, Fresh Market, in the parlor of what was formerly the family living quarters, I sat with Bethany Bultman and musician Roselyn Lionhart of the duo David & Roselyn, and witnessed the joy as Bethany said “Yes” to The Gig Fund — financially supporting the duo to play at LadyFest 2012 in November.
The interior of the Center Hall Plantation Style Cottage with 6 foot gilded mirrors, marble floors, and glass-ceilinged garden room fairly dripped New Orleans. But in the parlor, the staff of the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation (NOMAF) worked at their computers at a big central dining room table. Since I met Bethany in 1967, she’s been busy accomplishing things; from her books Cook With a Natchez Native and Joys of Entertaining (“Oh, that’s from another life”) to this afternoon hosting 60 jazz lovers from Switzerland, she’s always been busy. For the last 14 years, she’s turned her attention to the healthcare of New Orleans musicians who are such a big part of the reason we are a global destination city. Behind the wealth of music in New Orleans and the tourist dollars they bring to the city are individual artists who have next to nothing financially and for whom healthcare isn’t a possibility.
To remedy that situation, Bethany’s husband, Johann, created the New Orleans Musicians Clinic (NOMAF) in 1998 when he headed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. When illness and calamity struck, this is where musicians went for help. Then Katrina hit, the Clinic got wiped out, and the musicians got swept out of the city with the storm and the rest of the refugees. Bethany and Johann decamped to Lafayette where Bethany hatched her plan for The Gig Fund. With a loan from her mother, their mission expanded to adding an essential ingredient, booking musicians around the state and emergency funding to bring the artists back home to New Orleans. Because yes, musicians need healthcare like the rest of us, but they also need to make music, and being paid a few bucks wouldn’t hurt either. Calling on great musician friends around the country, instruments were sent down to replace the lost drum sets, pianos, and horns.
The Gig Fund partners with non-profits to hold events and provides musicians for those events, hiring them for an honorarium. The event gets to have music, the musicians get to play and get exposure,and Bethany and Johann get to carry out their dream of connecting artists making art to healthcare– a virtuous circle.
Like this…if you were an accountant, really enjoyed working those numbers, and suddenly you had to work as a dog groomer, that would probably cause some anxiety in your life. Anxiety causes illness. The same happens with artists. Not making art makes them sick, then they need more healthcare that our system doesn’t provide, so they knock on NOMAF’s door.
But being an accountant is viewed differently from being an artist. Number skills take some growing up to conquer; art, well we all did that in kindergarten. So what do we value? Some places it’s conch shells, some places it’s dollars (Gross National Product), and some places like Bhutan it’s GNH (Gross National Happiness). In NOLA, it’s definitely tourist dollars that we treasure, but it’s also the joyful sounds coming from every corner of the city. So if you treasure your local musicians, think our healthcare system isn’t working, go to an event, listen to their music; because that’s what we all want afterall, to be seen and heard.