Charity Profile: New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation
New Orleans without music is like Italy without wine or Texas without barbecue. Louisiana’s largest city has an eclectic origin story, one steeped in European influence, cajun food and an endless soundtrack, namely in the form of live jazz.
The live venues, festivals and street celebrations that call New Orleans home have long depended on talented musicians. Horn-toting bands make up the iconography of the Big Easy, hard at work not just along Bourbon Street but seemingly every nook and cranny of a metro area on its way to two million people. And as any artist knows, your craft doesn’t always pay the bills, especially if those bills are medical ones.
The New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic started in 1998 to keep the heart and soul of the city—its music makers—healthy and performing. Playing gigs doesn’t typically equate to medical insurance, so an untimely virus or broken bone could sideline a musician for sometime. Moreover, the money they make playing gigs usually falls short of the cost of a doctor or hospital visit. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the clinic gained non-profit status through the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation (NOMAF). The national spotlight of the aftermath broadened the clinic’s needs and the partnership allowed the foundation and its cause to grow.
According to Erica Dudas, Managing Director of NOMAF, the clinic currently treats about 2,500 patients, with an additional 2,000 via health outreach. She says the clinic pushes preventative medicine, as over 80 percent of patients are diagnosed with at least one chronic disease. “In New Orleans, many rely on booze or the bible, as in praying or drinking away illness,” Dudas says. “Musicians, especially, have been a group that’s historically been excluded from employer benefits such as insurance.”
In more dire situations, the clinic comes up big as well. “I can count so many times over the course of the five years I’ve been here where our responsive care has made the difference between life or death for a musician,” Dudas says. “My own personal work is so rewarding because it’s a cause I believe in and a functional, efficient service.”
In addition to general and preventative care, the clinic also offers musicians mental health counseling and access to special equipment, such as hearing aids. And because the music community is just that — a community — the clinic covers dancers, club employees, music photographers and writers, even Mardi Gras indians. While the clinic itself has a staff of just three and a volunteer medical coordinator, it is housed within the Louisiana State University Healthcare Network, which donates space and equipment and offers access to hundreds of doctors.
As the GM of Maison, a bar and venue on New Orleans’ Frenchman Street, Lindsay Oliver has the utmost respect for the clinic, which is why the bar chose it has their charity to support during Negroni Week. “The New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic is an excellent resource providing a variety of services for the musicians themselves as well as sound engineers and venue bartenders and servers,” Oliver says. “The clinic helps people who are employed by Maison and the musicians that we work so very closely with stay healthy without breaking the bank.”
NOMAF is also working with Tales of the Cocktail, also based in New Orleans, to provide a healthy space for local service workers. “It’s so important for the people who create New Orleans’ legendary nightlife to know their city cares about them and to support them in their work of spreading culture and hospitality to all who come here,” says Dudas.