I came to Austin when I was twenty having just finished my undergraduate studies at Oberlin Conservatory, and in preparation to begin graduate work at UT.  Already I’d spent three years organizing music events as the founder and president of a student music organization in college, and I had become passionate about the importance of arts presentation.  I viewed, and still view, healthy nonprofit arts organizations as the ultimate antidote to the elephant-in-the-room missing link in our arts world that has led to the conventional wisdom that it’s extremely difficult to make a living in the arts.

As a student preparing, along with my colleagues, to enter the artistic “workforce” I dreamed of creating a dynamic organization that would pay musicians fairly for their extraordinary work and dedication.  My personal mission has expanded since then, but this priority is still a core driving force for me.

Here we are living in the “Live Music Capital of the World”, a city that benefits economically and culturally from the varied and exceptional work of its many musicians, and yet it’s no secret that many musicians still struggle to make ends meet.

There is no organization more directly dedicated to the welfare of Austin musicians than the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (along with their sister org SIMS Foundation, which provides assistance for mental health and addiction recovery – on whose artistic advisory panel I happen to proudly serve).

HAAM is led by Carolyn Schwarz, one of the most effective and dedicated public servants I know.  I was delighted to have a recent conversation with Carloyn and wanted to share some of it with you.

Matthew Hinsley (MH): Tell me about yourself and HAAM?

Carolyn Schwarz (CS): HAAM stands for Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and I am very fortunate to be the founding executive director. HAAM’s mission is to provide access to affordable healthcare for Austin’s low-income, uninsured working musicians with a focus on wellness and prevention.

Our founder, Robin Shivers, was a businesswoman and philanthropist who through her work in music management understood how much Austin’s musicians bring into our economy and how little they themselves earn. That, combined with her understanding and connections in our healthcare community, inspired her to found HAAM.  It may surprise people to know that musicians bring in nearly $2 billion to the Austin economy yet the average income of musicians served by HAAM is $17,000/year!

I was lucky enough to meet Robin just as she was pulling together the organization. My background as a social worker and years of work building social service programs combined with my love of live music made this job a perfect fit!

MH: How does your program work? Who is eligible?

CS:  Many Austin musicians are self-employed and have no access to health insurance or basic health care. They often work multiple jobs and struggle to pay for food, clothing and shelter, with nothing left for health care. That’s where HAAM comes in. By resolving challenges such as long-neglected teeth to hearing loss, heart problems and depression, HAAM and its partners improve and save musicians’ health and lives and enhance Austin’s economy and quality of life. Musicians who are working musicians, uninsured and living at or below 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (approximately $28,725 for a single person) are eligible. Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, and we aim to keep it that way!

MH: What healthcare services are offered?

CS: We work with six affiliate service providers who offer high quality, comprehensive services to HAAM member-musicians. Services include primary medical care provided by Seton Healthcare Family, basic dental care provided by St. David’s Foundation in partnership with Capital Area Dental Foundation, mental health and addiction-recovery services provided by The SIMS Foundation, vision health provided by Prevent Blindness Texas, hearing health services provided by Estes Audiology and nutrition work provided by Whole Foods Market.

MH: How do musicians enroll?

CS: The best place to start is by calling our office at 512-322-5177. Our staff will talk with the musician and ask some basic questions over the phone and schedule a time for him or her to come to the office for an in-person eligibility appointment. Musicians can also find a lot of information about eligibility and a link to our application on the HAAM website.

MH: How many musicians have you helped?

CS: HAAM just turned eight! In that time, HAAM has helped over 3,000 musicians access over 52,000 healthcare appointments valued at over $16.2 million dollars. One important aspect of our work is the value of in-kind services that our affiliate service providers give in addition to the services that HAAM is paying for. For example, in 2012 for every $1 HAAM spent, the affiliate service providers donated an additional $7 in services. That means for every gift of $100 we receive from a donor we are able to leverage that into $800 total in services!

MH: What do the musicians say about HAAM?

CS: Our musicians are so appreciative of HAAM and our affiliate service providers. One musician shared this, “When I found out about my brain tumor every insurance company turned me away. It’s a discouraging thing to go through until I called the good folks at HAAM. Not only did you give me [healthcare coverage] on the spot… you gave me hope and love. I can’t describe the gratitude I feel for this amazing organization. You change lives, you build community, you give musicians a chance to follow their dreams with a feeling of relief because we are taken care of. God bless you people who give your time to make our lives easier and better. You made what could have been the hardest time of my life the most inspirational time of my life! Keep up the great work!”

MH: How can the community get involved?

CS: We have lots of ways to get involved! We have an amazing group of volunteers affectionately called HAAMbassadors and we are always looking to add more to our group. Business owners can get involved by participating in HAAM Benefit Day on Tuesday, September 24, 2013. On this day businesses give at least 5% of the day’s proceeds and musicians will be performing all over the city in traditional and non-traditional locations. Stay tuned as we roll out the full list of participating businesses and the music schedule! Lastly, HAAM does rely on community donations to continue our work and any gift, small or large, makes a big difference to us!

MH: What do you love about ACGS?

CS: Everything! What you do at Austin Classical Guitar Society is a gift to our community! From the concerts to the curriculum for schools to the work you do with the Juvenile Justice System and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired I am amazed by the impact you make! Thank you for giving the gift of live music to our kids and to our community! Keep up the great work!