To reach people without internet access, the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and Assistance Foundation has created a series on 18 no-nonsense - and printable - fact sheets about COVID-19.
- by Kirsten Reneau
During the COVID crisis, the internet has replaced conventional venues for community cultivation, like churches and live music clubs. At times now, it seems like the whole city of New Orleans is parading through forums and threading its way through social media platforms. Strangers pass on and exchange critical information: the importance of social distancing, the latest health news, ways boost your immune system.
But not everyone’s made the transition.
"Here is what we know: many of the most vulnerable of our musicians lack internet access since the libraries are closed. They also do not have cable TV to watch the news,” says Bethany Bultman, Co-Founding Director and Chair of the New Orleans Musicians Clinic & Assistance Foundation (NOMAF).
“People need simple, trusted, no-bullshit news," Bultman says. "And while creating online communities is great for those with internet, but what about people who don’t have a reliable source for vital information?”
With coffee shops closed and libraries shut down, access to the internet through public spaces has become nearly impossible to pick up. Even artists who do have cable and internet at home are facing shut-offs as those costs take a back-burner to affording basics.
So while NOMAF quickly mobilized and restructured their website to offer much needed information on COVID-19 health news, financial aid, food resources and more, Bultman continued to ask how NOMAF could reach people who didn't have internet access so no one would slip through the cracks.
Bultman cites her background as an investigative reporter with helping her realize she needed to go “old school.” She considered life a few decades ago, when cellphones were rare and internet was only available to those who could afford expensive computers, a time when information didn’t flow in the constant, steady stream people have come to expect.
So four weeks ago, Bultman and the NOMAF team began creating a series of 18 no-nonsense COVID-19 fact sheets designed for print. The one-page flyers convey critical information clearly and concisely — ranging in topic from safe shopping to how musicians can make sure their instruments are clean, to what to have on hand in your medicine cabinet.
Special health concerns are addressed as well – “What to know if you have diabetes,” “Addiction Recovery Support” and “Smoking & Vaping Risks.”
The organization has always taken a holistic approach, addressing mental health issues alongside physical ones. The handout series reflects that on-going concern with flyers on “Daily Self-Care,” “Stress Management,” and “Coping With Loneliness.”
The language in the flyers is engaging – they’re written with a New Orleans flair. For instance, the one on safe shopping starts off with “Since we can’t see COVID-19 germs, imagine that they are as hard to get rid of as GLITTER.”
Bullet points, icon illustrations and a clean lay-out design increase the chances that they’ll be read and posted on a refrigerator. The PDF one-pagers can be linked to or printed. NOMAF is now printing and passing out an estimated 5,000 of them each week.
Of course, this isn’t NOMAF’s first disaster rodeo. After Katrina, when musicians started trickling back into the city they loved, they found few gigs. Realizing that the backbone of well-being for a musician is performing, NOMAF created a gig fund, and paid musicians to serenade the almost empty airport, churches and relief centers. As the city slowly repopulated, the community of music makers were there to keep beat as the city rebuilt.
Since 1998 New Orleans Musicians Clinic has worked to provide the first - and only - comprehensive medical service in the country for performers. Today they serve more than 2500 local performers, including Mardi Gras Indians, drag queens, actors and ballet dancers.
During “normal” times, the NOMC & AF Cultural Advocacy Team provides medical care (in conjunction with the LSU Healthcare Network on St. Charles Ave.), social services, and health care outreach to the culture bearers who carry and create the city’s musical heritage.
Cherice Harrison-Nelson, Big Queen of the Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians, believes that NOMAF’s mission to keep the performing artists of the city safe is keeping the legacy of New Orleans itself alive.
“The musician’s clinic is extremely important to the city of New Orleans; much of the city’s identity is tethered to the creative artists,” she says. “Musicians, drag queens, Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid and Pleasure Club members — all those individuals, if they fall through the cracks, know they have a place to support them physically and mentally.”
Harrison-Nelson pointed out that most musicians already live gig-to-gig, existing in a grey economic limbo. Those that do have access to the internet now are playing their music online, banking on watchers to contribute to an electronic tip jar.
“It’s to maintain some form of income, and as artists, express themselves. There’s a need to do what you do. It’s healing for them as well as us,” Harrison-Nelson points out.
NOMAF was already over-burdened before COVID-19 hit. While they’re continuing their vital medical and mental health work, the fact sheet campaign is geared to keep the contagion from spreading and overloading the system further.
Many of these one-pagers find their way into musicians’ hands during NOMAF and Howlin' Wolf's food giveaway to musicians and service industry people, which runs from noon to 2:00pm, Monday through Friday.
But for Bultman, that’s not enough. She urges everyone to download, print, and give away the handouts, for as long as the shut down order is in place.
“It’s up to us to help each other,” she says.
Growing up among mountains, Kirsten Reneau has worked as a journalist wherever she could for as long as she's been able. Currently living in New Orleans, she spends most of her free time lounging on the bayou and walking her dog. Her creative work has been published in Hippocampus Magazine, and she is currently working on her Masters in Creative Writing at the University of New Orleans.
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