How to: barter art for medical care

Mural by Keith Haring at Woodhull Hospital
Your art could join Keith Haring's at Woodhull Hospital

Living without health insurance takes some ingenuity. You check symptoms online, hit-up your roommate’s second-year med-student-friend for a quick diagnosis, maybe even, in a real pinch, try one of Brooklyn’s free or low-cost medical clinics. But how about painting a mural for your next full check-up? Or giving a concert for the next refill of your necessary scrip? Well, such bartering for treatment is the norm through the Artist Access program at Woodhull Hospital. If you have artistic talent (of almost any kind, really), and you’re earning less than a school teacher, chances are you’ll be able to trade for some healthcare at the North Brooklyn hospital.

Artist Access works like this: For every hour of art, music, dance, any other artistic service you give to Woodhull, you get 40 “health credits” toward medical care there. Each credit is worth $1, so one hour equals $40 worth of medical care. We know $40 seems like a pittance in the world of doctors, but Woodhull and the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) have a program that stretches it further than you’d think.

Woodhull, a medical center at the intersection of Bushwick, Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy, started Artist Access in 2005 as a way to bring healthcare to the many artistically-inclined and irregularly-employed around North Brooklyn. Since then, healthcare has been traded for art exhibits, concerts, reading to children and whatever else participating artists can bring to the table. Actors have role-played to help young MDs learn to deliver bad news, and others have helped chemo-patients to self-sooth and meditate through the pain. Photographers will soon be able to take pictures of newborns so parents will have some professionally-crafted memories from day-one.

Back to the nitty-gritty of the program, all participants have to be approved, of course, and they also have to be enrolled in HHC Options, a low to medium-income NYC healthcare program. HHC Options works on an income-based sliding scale, and you’re eligible as long as you’re a resident of the city, otherwise uninsured and ineligible for Medicaid or one of New York State’s insurance programs. The program really isn’t only for the poorest of the poor. Individuals can earn up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, or about $40,000 a year. Go here for the specifics of qualifying

Once you qualify, HHC Options includes a range of services, including dentistry, ER visits and and even prescriptions—and it’s all cheap, that’s how your $40 per hour from Artist Access actually works. For instance, through HHC Options, your doctor’s visits could range from $15 to $60 each, and a prescriptions could be $10. So if a check-up is $60, that’s two hours of art, with enough leftover for two prescriptions. This is all an example, of course, but a realistic one.

Once you’re accepted to HHC Options, getting in the Artist Access program is simple, says program coordinator Amy Duquette. As long as you live in the five boroughs, are uninsured and can prove that you’re making your income through art—visual art, acting, music, writing, poetry, filmmaking, dancing, almost anything—you’re in the program. “As long as they are, any artist is accepted,” says Duquette.

If you think you qualify, call Duquette to arrange a meeting, and she’ll walk you through all of the enrollment steps. Make sure to bring some proof-of-income and a good idea of how your art can be expressed to help someone at the hospital. You’ll help yourself, brighten someone else’s day and have that captive audience you’ve been waiting for.

Amy Duquette can be reached at 877-244-5600 or 718-630-3069.


  1. Lindon Baker

    What a wonderful idea. I just read recently that bartering in general got popular again. I even tried it at Bartering like in the old days is a good thing where one can get cheap things back. On that side it is also possible to trade services like health care services and artist performance.

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