O Positive: A Festival of Art, Health and Community

(Collage de Micah Blumenthal via La Voz)

(Collage de Micah Blumenthal via La Voz)

Generally, when we say “O positive” (O+), we are talking about the most common blood type. However, for the last six years, when the term O+ is mentioned in the Hudson Valley, it refers to a festival aiming to motivate arts and health professionals to exchange services while the Kingston community enjoys a weekend of art, health and partying.

On this occasion, the festival, to be held Oct. 7 to 9, seems to be pulling no stops, as its calendar features more than 60 bands who will entertain the crowd and over 30 artists participating in exhibitions and mural painting.

Because Hispanics are the largest group carrying O+ blood in the world and the theme of this year’s festival is “Mothers of Invention,” a “mother of invention” of Latino descent had to be present at the event.

This is how Gardiner, New York, resident and native Ecuadorean Sandra Fabara, better known as Lady Pink, came here to show her talent. The artist, a renowned legend of graffiti art, has managed to dodge the police and paint her artwork on subway cars and the walls of New York City from the 1970s to this day.

Even though her work is on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Whitney Museum, as well as other prestigious art institutions around the world, Lady Pink feels most at home when she is painting murals. Her themes usually depict indigenous cultures and social issues, often questioning the bad policies carried out by governments, the police and other institutions.

The mural the artist, born in the Ecuadorean city of Ambato, will create this time is called “Orgullo Latino” – “Latino Pride” – and will be painted on one of the walls of Express Latinos, a shop located at 670 Broadway in midtown Kingston, owned by a fellow Ecuadorean.

One of the things the artist enjoys the most is chatting with members of the community while she works. It goes without saying that everyone is invited to witness how a Lady Pink mural comes to life, color by color and stroke by stroke.

The Ecuadorean painter says that her art is not necessarily meant to decorate the walls of luxury mansions or make her wealthy, but to bring joy to people. “The truth is that, to me, there’s nothing like seeing the smile my murals can bring to the people who see them as they walk by them in the morning on their way to work,” said Lady Pink.

The “Orgullo Latino” mural, which will take three days to make, is the artist’s donation to the Kingston community. In turn, the festival will give Lady Pink a coupon of sorts to see a health provider who will also be donating – rather, exchanging – their labor for art, whether it is a ticket to see a concert or a dance performance, or to acquire a painting.

By the end of the festival, Kingston will have four new murals by artists Lady Pink; John Breiner, who will explore bricks as a theme; Jess X Chen, who will honor migrant women and refugees; Martina Nehrling, whose work will celebrate intuition and instinct; and Eugene Stetz Jr., whose painting will revere imagination.

Many of the music groups featured come from all over New York and beyond, but the festival has also invited three popular bands from the Hudson Valley: Breakfast for the Boys, Frenchy and the Punk, and Geezer. The majority of the concerts will take place at clubs such as BSP, Keegan Ales and Stockade Tavern, to name a few.

Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) aims to provide insurance for every resident of the United States, many artists still have trouble paying for the health care they need. That is why the idea to exchange art for health services, which began in Kingston in 2010, has expanded like wildfire throughout the country.

Aside from Kingston, places such as the Bronx, Chicago, north Boston and the San Francisco area have celebrated O+ festivals, and the event is also scheduled to be held in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Nashville and Lowell, Massachusetts. The nonprofit festivals intend to connect musicians and artists with health care providers to foster well-being in a more sustainable community.

Needless to say, arts and health professionals are not the only ones enjoying the benefits of O+, but also the community as a whole. People who are not artists or work in the health industry but wish to listen to a specific band or receive a particular health service can make a donation (not buying an admission ticket) and go to a concert, or receive medical attention or the massage they need.

As the festival grows and more bands and clubs are included, the number of health services offered at improvised clinics during and after the event also increases and becomes more diverse. If, in the beginning, it was only about going to the doctor or the dentist, now the festival offers alternative medicine, including reiki, acupuncture, meditation, aromatherapy, chiropractics, mental health therapy, sessions with a shaman and even yoga in Spanish, among other services.

Still, one thing that makes this festival unique is the fact that it goes beyond health and art. It starts with a New Orleans-style parade, full of color and costumes, and continues with a health expo, a cycling race and a conference.

As for numbers, last year the festival raised over $30,000 in donations or tickets to events from nearly 2,500 participants, and more than 500 treatments were offered to over 200 musicians, artists and volunteers.

This year, the organizers expect to surpass these figures, saying that “By exchanging the art of medicine for the medicine of art, O+ empowers communities to take control of their collective well-being.”

WHAT: O+ Festival
WHEN: Oct. 7 to 9
WHERE: Various Kingston venues
WHEN: Varies and by donation
MORE AT: opositivefestival.org

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