O+ Festival

Health takes center-stage at inaugural O+ Festival


NORTH ADAMS — DJs and MCs are common at arts festivals. MDs? Not so much.

Yet, in the O+ Festival's lineup, you'll find doctors and other health professionals mixed in with artists and musicians. That's because the new North Adams festival will be providing free health and wellness care to its performers and volunteers in the midst of art, music and wellness programming on Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11. (A few wellness events will also be held Sunday, May 12, at Hancock Shaker Village.) The idea is to provide underinsured creative types with health resources and information that can serve them beyond O+ as they attempt to navigate the complex U.S. health care system, in many cases without employer backing. While festival attendees cannot take advantage of such services, they can check out acts such as Grammy-nominated duo Les Nubians, which will perform at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's Hunter Center on that Saturday night. The concert will cap a day that includes 55 events at various sites around North Adams.

"On the outside, anyone from the community can come and enjoy a festival with good music — local music — amazing art and workshops and wellness and activities," O+ North Adams Festival Director Jessica Sweeney said, "but really the core of this festival is to fill the gap [in] health care for artists and musicians, freelancers in particular."

The artists' clinic will be set up in Mass MoCA's Building 6, according to O+ North Adams Communications Director Makayla-Courtney McGeeney. Musicians, artists and volunteers receive access to "an overall check-up (blood pressure, ears and eyes, etc.), body and energy work such as a massage and reiki, and dental work," McGeeney wrote in an email. Musician, artist and volunteer walk-ins are acceptable for check-ups. Dental appointments with Carver Dental need to be made in advance.

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"I'm really excited because I haven't been to the dentist in forever, and I'm like, 'Yes, I've got a dental appointment,'" visual artist Danielle Klebes said.

The North Adams resident is currently creating one of the festival's murals outside of Tres Ninos. Vincent Ballentine is also making one at the Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont store at 166 State St. Public art has been a staple of O+ gatherings in other cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Haverhill, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Kingston, N.Y., where O+ was founded in 2010. A video about the opioid epidemic in North Adams and the city's growing arts community helped attract the nonprofit to the northern Berkshire city that Klebes first visited as an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker back in 2013. She's drawing from that experience in her mural, "Outdoor Recreation."

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"I wanted to capture the trail spirit mixed with the old postcards," Klebes said, alluding to vintage North Adams imagery that looks down on the city.

Klebes arrived in North Adams about a year ago, receiving a North Adams Project grant from Assets for Artists. Though she's still early in her career, the artist born in 1989 said that she has gone through periods without adequate health care. She has been lucky enough to have it at the right moments, though.

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"I had a freak eye thing the end of last year, wracked up $30,000 in medical bills that I paid like a small fraction of. So, that was amazing," said Klebes, who is currently covered by MassHealth.

Klebes is aiming to have her mural done by the time the festival starts. On Friday, May 10, a special Elks Lodge kick-off concert featuring Humble Digs, And The Kids and Aubrey Haddard will be accessible for advance wristband-holders beginning at 8 p.m. The next day, the festival will begin in earnest with a farmers market and health expo at The Green. Yoga, Pilates, mindfulness meditation and fitness sessions are some of the morning's other offerings. That afternoon, festivalgoers can hear Hill Haints, Nick Stanley, Belle-Skinner and Mamma's Marmalade, among other musical acts. At night, Krista Speroni, who performs as Spero, will open for Les Nubians. The musician works on musical projects in Boston and the Hudson Valley, but has been gigging a bit in North Adams recently. Participating in the city's first O+ Festival carries weight for her.

"I definitely thought it was a great opportunity for my project, my music, the direction of my band," Speroni said of the festival, "but on the grander scale of things, more important scale of things, I feel like, what a cool idea for a festival. A lot of musicians that I know are circulating in the gig economy, picking up jobs wherever we can. And as many of us know, health insurance may or may not be a thing for those people, including myself. I think it's just a really epic way to organize around giving services to people, to artists that we value, and showing that appreciation."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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