We’re incredibly grateful to the Writers Guild of America, West, which announced today that it is contributing $977,095 to The Actors Fund! The grant is specifically earmarked for The Fund’s emergency financial assistance program, which supports entertainment professionals in need by covering basic living expenses such as rent or medical bills.
The money for this donation comes from undistributable funds held by the WGAW’s Foreign Levies Program, a program that has successfully distributed over $121 million to writers and their heirs. But some of that money can’t be distributed because it isn’t designated for a known project or writer, so as part of a legal settlement, it was agreed that these funds would be donated to The Actors Fund. Additional information about the Foreign Levies Program can be found at www.wga.org/foreignlevies.
“We became aware of how important The Actors Fund is during the 2007-08 strike,” said WGAW President Chris Keyser. “Without hesitation, The Fund stepped in and provided critical services to those in the industry who desperately needed help. We are thrilled that after years of litigation the court has cleared the way for us to make this contribution to The Fund’s good work.”
Last year, The Fund distributed $2.5 million in emergency financial assistance to nearly 1,600 people, and almost $1 million helped colleagues in southern California.
Rebecca Sauer is one of the newest members of The Actors Fund Family. She brings years of experience in community development and housing policy to her role as Project Analyst for the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation (AFHDC). Here she shares the low-down on the importance of affordable housing for the entertainment community, AFHDC’s current survey of NYC/NJ area arts community, and the exploration of new housing in Rahway, NJ, Downtown Los Angeles and more.
Actors Fund: What do you think are the most exciting things about AFHDC’s new projects in Rahway, NJ, and Downtown Los Angeles? Rebecca: Rahway is such an incredible example of how a small city can use the arts as a revitalization strategy. When I first visited, I thought “OK, sleepy little town,” but that very same day, after meeting with some of the key officials and people involved in programming at local arts organizations, I was walking back to the train and I saw Rahway with new eyes. There is so much energy there and potential for interesting collaborations. I can’t wait to see how the tenants of the Rahway Residence for the Arts participate in local activities and work with the new Hamilton Stage, the Union County Performing Arts Center, the Rahway Arts District, and the Arts Guild of New Jersey. The city is really supporting the belief that the arts can bring about positive community change. So far they’ve proven it by bringing in new residents, attracting directors to shoot their films there, and maximizing tax revenues, not to mention the increased opportunities to expose young people to the arts.
Similarly, in downtown LA, our project is part of a broader public initiative to support the arts and use it as a community and economic development strategy. There, we are working around the Broadway corridor, which is the home of historic theatres that began to decline in the 1930s. We are still in the process of selecting a site, but one of the most exciting things to me will be to see how the character of this district will be preserved in an innovative way and how old spaces will be repurposed to suit new industries and community needs. While we will contribute by developing affordable artist housing there, the plans also include space to incubate creative businesses, expansion of the CalArts campus, and flexible space for non-profit arts organizations.
AF: Why is affordable artist housing an important part of building a better community? Rebecca: In general, affordable housing that is developed through government programs like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and/or by mission-driven organizations, is safer, more secure, and provides a better quality of life for residents. When people spend more than 30–40% of their income on housing (widely accepted as a reasonable rent burden and guaranteed in subsidized affordable housing), they have a smaller share of their income available for groceries, healthcare, education and saving for their futures. When people aren’t constantly scrambling to move and find a decent deal, they can focus on finding stable work or doing better at the jobs they already have. It is incredibly important that artists have the energy and resources to excel. The arts and creative disciplines are what set one community apart from another; they drive tourism and the further development of other niche industries. Exposure to the arts is associated with better educational outcomes for youth. All of these things are important for building healthy and strong communities.
AF: What’s your favorite part about seeing these projects come together? Rebecca: Hearing residents speak about how affordable housing has changed their lives!
AF: You’ve spent some time working and studying in Buenos Aires with Habitat for Humanity. What’s your favorite thing about that culturally vibrant city? Rebecca: It’s too hard to pick one favorite thing, but I love the café culture. It’s so great to sit out for hours, have some café con leche, and people-watch. I was also lucky to have a very unique experience when I lived there. By chance, I ended up living with the family of the late Alberto Castillo, an iconic Argentine tango singer. While tango has become the clichéd thing identified with the city, it really does pervade it and inform people’s collective memory. I was able to walk around the house I lived in and examine mementos and pictures that really captured a time and a culture. It was kind of like The Actors Fund office in that way.
AF: Now that summer’s wrapped up, are there any films, shows or albums you’re looking forward to checking out this fall? Rebecca: Shout out to one of my former classmates and friend from college, Alison Klayman. She directed a documentary about the controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei called Never Sorry. It came out this summer, but I still haven’t made it to the theatre. It has gotten rave reviews from friends as well as impartial critics; hopefully I’ll catch it before it leaves the IFC Center!
Located in New York City at The Dorothy Ross Friedman Residences (formerly The Aurora), The Actors Fund’s Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic provides free health care to uninsured and underinsured documented entertainment industry professionals between the ages of 18 to 64. Its clients, who come from all corners of the entertainment industry, are grateful to receive the amazing care given to them by Medical Director Dr. James Spears, the rest of the team at the Clinic, and the incredible roster of Broadway Docs, who volunteer their time to offer free services when needed.
The Clinic has positively impacted the lives of so many people, and we are moved when we hear from people like Kathleen Spock, who’s visit with Dr. Spears changed her life and has helped her stay healthy. Kathleen’s taken the time to share her story with us, to tell us why she believes the Clinic is such an incredibly important resource, and to encourage all of you to send the fabulous team at the Hirschfeld Clinic a thank-you note.
I call Dr. Spears “my angel in heaven.” He was there when I needed him most – and I can tell you with certainty, not a finer man walks this earth.
Now, I’d like to be there for Dr. Spears and his staff and thank them for the amazing work they do every day. And, I hope you will help.
A few weeks before I met Dr. Spears, I had so much trouble breathing I found myself in the ER overnight. I didn’t know what was wrong and I was terrified. Trust me – when you can’t breathe, your whole world stops.
But, the huge bill I ended up with was even scarier, not to mention a misdiagnosis of a “sore throat!” Not long after that, I had so much trouble breathing, I couldn’t even finish my shift at the theater. Finally, a stagehand took me to The Actors Fund’s Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic during the show’s intermission.
Dr. Spears, the Clinic’s Medical Director, diagnosed me with severe asthma right away. Who knew? Well, Dr. Spears did! And to this day, the Clinic still helps provide medication critical to controlling my asthma.
Every year, The Actors Fund provides free care to more than 1,300 un- or under-insured people in the performing arts through the Clinic (and nearly 3,000 free visits for our community).
So, I humbly ask that you take a moment to sign a “thank you” note to Dr. Spears and his dedicated staff. They do so much for our community—we owe it to them to make sure they know how much they are appreciated!
Your appreciation of the hard-working team at the Clinic is a great way to keep the arts vibrant. By recognizing Dr. Spears’ efforts, all of us who are uninsured – actors, technicians, dancers, singers, set designers, ushers and all the rest – stay healthy, strong and able to work!
Thank you again for being part of The Actors Fund family. Your loyal support literally keeps the people in the performing arts and entertainment healthy!
Join The Actors Fund to help keep our community healthy! You’ll get access to the best seats in the house, receive our Marquee newsletter (which includes reports on how your donations help our community), plus the latest on our exciting events. In New York, call Judy Fish at 212.221.7300 ext. 127 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. In Los Angeles, call Meg Thomas at 323.933.9244 ext. 434 or email email@example.com.