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Fringe Benefits: starving artists don't have to be sick, too

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As an undergraduate at Michigan State in the early 70s, David Hinkamp often traveled to Chicago to hang out at the Jazz Record Mart, where proprietor Bob Koester would update him on the best spots in town to hear blues and jazz. "I came on my 21st birthday," Hinkamp says, "with the sole purpose of getting Koester and going to some great place. He sent us to this place, Club Motown--63rd and the Dan Ryan." On an abandoned street that resembled "a bombed-out shooting gallery," he found a mini blues festival: "Mighty Joe Young, Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James Jr. I was hooked. I determined early that I wanted to come here at some point."

After earning his medical degree from the University of Michigan, Hinkamp came to Cook County Hospital to do a residency in occupational medicine, and then signed on as an attending physician. (He's also on staff at the University of Illinois Medical Center and a faculty member at UIC's School of Public Health.) In 1982, he says, "one of the blues legends showed up at my clinic and was having a difficult time--not only health problems, but financial problems. That really brought the thing home to me. Chicago is saturated with world-class musicians. Chicago ought to be the place, if there was ever a place, where the community rallies around its arts communities and supports them in every way possible."

Hinkamp, who plays jazz flute and saxophone, approached the Jazz Institute of Chicago about putting together a program to offer free health care to artists. "It was an uphill battle at that point to get people to think about health care as not just a benefit, but as a right," he says. "But [JIC board member] Jim DeJong understood right away. He and I talked about this over and over, how to get something like this going."

DeJong, who booked acts at Link's Hall in the 80s and was a founder of HotHouse's parent organization, the Center for International Performance and Exhibition, is a legendarily self-effacing figure who refuses to give his age or discuss his personal background other than to say that "it's complex, but I consider myself a Chicagoan."

In the late 80s, at his urging, Hinkamp contacted vocalist Valerie Wellington, who was trying to organize the Chicago Blues Coalition to assist musicians with things like retirement planning and housing. But the program never quite got off the ground--Wellington died in 1993, "right at the point where it needed somebody like her to be leading," says Hinkamp.

"Jim pointed out, 'You already work at a university--what would the university think about it?' And I was just, 'What an idiot--why didn't I tumble onto this before?'"

In 1999, Hinkamp and his colleague Dr. Katherine Duvall--a dancer and pianist--launched Health in the Arts (HARTS), a comprehensive occupational health and education program at UIC that offers free clinical and preventative care and outreach to artists of all stripes: musicians crippled by carpal tunnel syndrome, stained-glass cutters sick from lead poisoning, singers with sore throats. Since the clinic opened, the two doctors have seen as many as 60 patients a week.

At 5:30 on Wednesday, June 25, the Jazz Journalists Association and the JIC will honor Hinkamp and DeJong as part of the JJA's Seventh Annual Jazz Awards ceremony at HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo. Yoko Noge & Jazz Me Blues, Mwata Bowden, Khari B., Kurt Elling, and Giacomo Gates will perform. Admission is $35 ($20 for JJA or JIC members and students) and will benefit HARTS, the JIC, and the Jazz Foundation of America. Call 312-427-1676 for more information.

Hinkamp also hopes that the event will help raise his program's profile. In the sciences, he says, "you put out a shingle with your name on it and you wait for people to come. That doesn't work in this business." For more info on HARTS call 312-996-7420.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/courtesy UIC photo services.

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