Volume 75, Number 35 | January 18 - 24, 200

After an injury points to a need, FEVA focuses on healthcare

By Tonya Garcia

Villager photo by Clayton Patterson
Carrie Beehan, a member of the Federation of East Village Artists, was seriously injured last summer while setting up for a HOWL! Festival event in a community garden. Her accident highlighted the need for FEVA, a three-year-old organization, to help members have access to a health plan.
On Aug. 21 of last year members of the Federation of East Village Artists were preparing for the opening night party of the annual HOWL! Festival. Setup was underway at 6BC Botanical Garden in Alphabet City, when a wheelbarrow full of slate fell on one of the FEVA workers, severely injuring her leg. Since then, that FEVA member, Carrie Beehan, has been struggling to recover.

During the past four months, that accident has served as the impetus for action among certain members of the organization. Some within the ranks of FEVA assert that, as the HOWL! Festival has grown in popularity over the past three summers, the organization has failed to meet its original goals. The festival’s goal is to “celebrate the neighborhood’s role as the cradle of counterculture,” but the broader mission of FEVA, some feel, is to serve as advocates for the community’s artists. Disgruntled members think the din of HOWL! has stifled the group’s progress.

“FEVA was never developed,” says Penny Arcade, 55, who has been a member of FEVA’s Advisory Board since the organization’s start in December 2002 and a member of the Downtown art scene for over 30 years. Arcade is vocal about her frustration with the group. “Other federations have goals and charities and things that they support. All the energy went into creating an infrastructure for the HOWL! Festival.” She says that the three original ideas behind FEVA were to demand low-income housing in the face of “encroaching gentrification,” to provide artists with an emergency fund when they are in crisis and to promote the careers of Downtown artists. “We are not corporate business as usual,” says Arcade. “FEVA needs to be more responsive to its community.”

One of the organization’s co-founders is also disappointed with the direction FEVA has taken. David Leslie, 48, who currently sits on the advisory board, would like the artists’ opinions to hold more weight when decisions are made. “Democracy has not been a strong point of FEVA,” he says. As a result, a list of grievances is being compiled. Leslie feels “certain that most people who signed on originally would resign if most of their grievances aren’t addressed.”

The list of grievances, being compiled by Cynthia Carr, an advisory board member, will reveal whether healthcare, for example, is one of the top priorities most FEVA members want the group to provide. However, Carr told The Villager she was uncomfortable with going public with it before it has been presented to the advisory board.

The man now in charge of addressing those grievances is Joseph Pupello, executive director of FEVA for the past three months. The former president of the New York Restoration Project, Pupello, 43, raised millions of dollars for community gardens and parks in New York City.

Pupello has already set a number of goals for 2006. The first step is the group’s pending application for nonprofit status, which is currently being reviewed by the Internal Revenue Service. He would also like to start an Artist Emergency Relief Fund, which would be small in the beginning, but would provide for situations like loss of housing.

Beehan’s August 2005 accident highlighted the need for healthcare access. FEVA has arranged for a workshop on Jan. 24 to register members of the community (not just members of FEVA) with Gouverneur Healthcare Services. Gouverneur, which is over a century old, provides an option for healthcare that is affordable to those who would otherwise be unable to visit a doctor. Registration will take place at 227 Madison St. between 10 a.m. and noon and those interested should contact the FEVA offices at 212-505-2225. Pupello is also trying to work out a system in which artists will be able to exchange their work for health services.

Still, Arcade thinks that, in cases where a specialist is necessary, such as in Beehan’s serious leg injury, the plan being offered by FEVA isn’t enough. Beehan declined to comment for this article.

Yet, countered Pupello, “This is such an H.M.O.-based society. If you don’t have a plan, you feel as though you’re flailing in the wind. This is not grade B healthcare. If someone confronts difficulty, my voice and the voice of FEVA will be there.”

Pupello says FEVA has been following the normal trajectory for an organization that started with limited resources and staff — establishing a feature project like HOWL! and then building around that.

Over all, Pupello believes the discord within the organization is isolated to just “10 percent” of group members. Members like Marguerite Van Cook, who is on both the board of directors and the advisory board, is “delighted” that FEVA is moving in the right direction and feels the health plan is part of that. “It’s sorely needed in an artists’ community,” she says. “It’s the first solution. It may not necessarily be the right one, but it’s a start.”

“I love that things are being talked about,” says Pupello, who looks forward to further conversations with the board of directors and advisory board and approximately 1,000 members who comprise FEVA. “It’s important that we go through these changes,” he said. “Artists can find solace, safety and feel comfortable expressing themselves here. Let’s not fight amongst ourselves because people have different views.”

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