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Interview with O+ Festival

O+ is an organization that helps artists and musicians gain access health care. They host annual one-day and weekend-long celebrations, called O+ Festivals, during which underinsured artists and musicians create and perform in exchange for a variety of services donated by local doctors, dentists, and complementary care providers. Their next festival is just a little over a week away on October 6 - 8 in and all over Kingston, New York.

In this interview, Joe Concra (Painter, Co-Founder, and Executive Director of O+) and Kathleen Murray, (Director of Communications at O+) go into more detail about the organization and what we can expect at their event.

Photo credit: Stefan Lisowski via O+ Festival

Missy Graff Ballone (MGB): What was the motivation for creating the O+ Festival?

Joe Concra (JC): Artists and musicians live freelance lives: show to show, and sale to sale. Their income fluctuates so drastically that it can be a constant struggle to afford healthcare and access to care. Once we heard that a dentist would trade cleanings for bringing a band to Kingston, we got a bunch of artists, musicians, and healthcare practitioners together to see what else we could mutually provide. The idea was hatched and everyone gave what they could.

Musician Kiirstin Marilyn performed at last year's O+ Festival in Kingston. Photo credit: O+ Festival

MGB: How has the event grown and changed since it started?

JC: O+ is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our festivals are being used as connection points for the communities we serve. We are helping artists and musicians obtain access to care year round.

MGB: Please describe how the O+ Festivals strengthen our communities.

JC: This spring we created a mural map to document and contextualize more than 20 of the murals that have already gone up in Kingston. We have given a number of tours to students from local schools, and we will continue to grow that education outreach program. In addition, we have started Educate and Activate public forums that address health-care access, food insecurity, and the economic challenges faced by small cities. We are now focused on refining the process of how we accept new locations for our festivals, and we are bringing representatives from our accepted cities to Kingston for BO+OT Camp so they can take control of their collective well-being where they live, create, and work.

JC: When we value each other equally based on our contributions, we begin to see each other not as doctors, lawyers, artists, or bakers, but as friends and neighbors. I know it sounds simple, but O+ erases all of the labels and hierarchy around care and culture and just asks "What is this worth to you?". We leave behind amazing performances and large-scale murals that are gifts to the communities we serve.

"O Wind, Take Me to My Country" mural by Jess X. Snow and Jia Sung at ARTBAR Gallery." Photo credit: O+ Festival

MGB: Can you tell me about the mural projects that O+ has happening during their events?

Kathleen Murray (KM): This year's seven mural artists, who hail from as far away as Albuquerque and as nearby as Kingston, have been asked to respond to the theme of HO+ME. We have murals going up citywide: Uptown, Midtown and at The Rondout. Use our festival mural map to find them. Stop by and greet the artists as you watch them transform the walls of Kingston.

MGB: What can first time attendees expect? Walk me through the day.

KM: A red festival wristband ($50) is your all-access pass to three days and nights of art, music, and wellness. The schedule is jam-packed, so the festival definitely has a ‘choose your own adventure’ kind of vibe. Here is a sampling of events happening on the second day of the upcoming festival (Saturday, October 7):

9:00 am: Start at The Rondout to check out Matthew Pleva's large-scale mural at the Riverport Wooden Boat School at the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

9:30 am: Pick up your festival wristband, schedule/map, and O+ swag at HO+ME Base.

9:45 am: Walk over to The Kirkland for Vinyasa Flow, part of our EXPLO+RE series of yoga, dance, and meditation classes, which take place all day Saturday and Sunday.

11:00 am: Have breakfast at one of the many uptown cafes, then check out the Wellness EXPO+ on Wall Street to learn about the offerings and services of local health and wellness businesses and nonprofits.

12:00 pm: Use the festival schedule and map to find all the mural making, art installations and performance art around uptown and midtown Kingston.

2:15 pm: Head back to The Kirkland for a Guided Meditation class.

4:00 pm: Stay at The Kirkland for "The Art of Money" class.

5:00 pm: Head to the front of venue BSP Kingston for two exciting musical collaborations: Ambrosia Parsley (formerly of Shivaree) and Chris Maxwell followed by Mimi Goese (Hugo Largo) and Ben Neill.

7:00 pm: Head back to The Kirkland for a healing "voice bath" with Sarah Perrotta.

8:00 pm: Dead Leaf Echo at Seven21 Media Center.

9:00 pm: Jouska at The Anchor.

10:45 pm: Spirit Family Reunion at Keegan Ales!

Photo credit: O+ Festival

MGB: What's next for O+?

JC: This spring we created a mural map to document and contextualize more than 20 of the murals that have already gone up in Kingston. We have given a number of tours to students from local schools, and we will continue to grow that education outreach program. In addition, we have started Educate and Activate public forums that address health-care access, food insecurity, and the economic challenges faced by small cities. We are now focused on refining the process of how we accept new locations for our festivals, and we are bringing representatives from our accepted cities to Kingston for BO+OT Camp so they can take control of their collective well-being where they live, create, and work.

MGB: Thank you!

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