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Preview Sat Aug 29 2015

O+ Festival Builds a Positive Community

When artist Amy Jo Arndt was fresh out of Milwaukee's Institute of Art and Design, she moved to Chicago for more opportunities. But just three years ago her search for an art community coincided with a spiritual journey to seek better health and wellness. After spending her days nannying part-time, she'd watch TED Talks during the evenings when she wasn't occupying herself with her own art.

One day she watched TED speaker Joe Concra, founder of the O+ Festival (pronounced "O-Positive"). This nonprofit provides performing musicians with health services instead of a check, and before Concra left the stage he asked, "Where else can we prove that it happens?"

This question rang in Arndt's head, and she decided to shoot an email over to Concra. A few email exchanges later, they decided to talk on the phone.

At this time Arndt said she was longing to "work on a project greater than myself" and to find connections with other artists. The same day when Arndt found out that she and her husband were going to have a baby was the day when she and Concra decided to launch the O+ festival in Pilsen, Chicago.

After the initial rush of inspiration that followed, Arndt moved quicker and quicker. Now's the time for this to happen, she said, as five years ago Pilsen was not lined with as many boutiques and coffee shops.

The festival first launched in Kingston, New York, in 2010, which featured headliner Phosphorescent. Their festival in Petaluma, California started soon after, and now Pilsen will mark its third site during Labor Day weekend (September 3rd-5th). The 2013 Kingston festival provided health services valued more than $95,000, according to an article in United Press International. And though there are sites across the nation, these festivals are grassroots and community-run.

To give musicians something longer-lasting and more personal compensation, the O+ Festival in Pilsen will offer artists and performing musicians health services instead of money. This may include anything from dental work to cancer screenings, or physical therapy to a doctor checking vitals. Many of the musicians--but not all--live in Chicago, if not Pilsen in particular.

This is all thanks to Art and Music Manager Cheryl Casden. After visiting the Kingston festival (a mere 11 miles away from Woodstock) with her sister, Jody Casden, and Arndt, she said she began to "see doctors as artists", and the reverse is true too. In fact, one of Cheryl Casden's favorite artists, Mama Crow, will play her spiritually-inflected folk music at the Pilsen festival. Casden asked herself, wouldn't it be amazing if she came? She sent her a message and an hour later Mama Crow responded.

Other performing musicians include Matt Tatum, Monogold, Edamame, Smoker, and many, many more.

Cheryl Casden emphasized the importance of a bartering system in artistic communities--where people trade services and skills instead of money. As someone who knows what it had been like living check to check as an artist, she said the volunteers and organizers of O+ want treat their artists well. She said she wants to "look at them in the eye, and say 'you deserve this for what you do.'"

Her sister Jody Casden manages the other half of the festival: the Clinic. She earned experience in massage therapy from the Loop's Soma Institute. She and her sister have also hitched a trailer to their burnt orange Chevrolet and dubbed it the Golden Teardrop. It's both a sanctuary to provide therapy as well as an art gallery.

For them, Arndt approached them at the right time. Jody Casden said, "I've been trying to combine my dreams with O+'s." Going to the O+ Festival in Kingston allowed her to see the connection between therapy and creativity.

Arndt said by giving these performers health services it's more personal because the volunteers and organizers are more concerned with the artists's wellbeing. "There's so much positive energy," Arndt said.

Therefore, due to the small community feel of the O+ festivals, Arndt added "it's not for 10s of thousands of people." She and the Casden sisters are anticipating a much bigger turnout than either the festivals in Kingston or Petaluma. The festival is nonetheless for the community, and not just for the artists or volunteers, Arndt added.

The festival is free, with a suggested donation of $10. Cheryl Casden will be heading the festival's clinic, and she will be open to speak to festival-goers on Saturday. Jody Casden said "it goes beyond just a check, which may not even be enough."

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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