Houston Methodist, Ensemble collab gives artists healthcare access
Ensemble Theatre production of Josephine. Photo courtesy Ensemble Theatre.

Houston Methodist (HM) and the Ensemble Theatre are teaming to bring some healing to the arts. The collaboration is currently operating under a temporary name, the Houston Methodist Performing Artists Initiative, but the impact of this first-of-its-kind program could be long-lasting.

Artists, dancers and other creative professionals often don’t have traditional health care resources. So, Houston Methodist’s Center for Performing Arts Medicine (CPAM) and Office of Benefits have teamed with the Ensemble to make sure their on- and off-stage artists can access the care they need.

According to Ryane Jackson, Houston Methodists’ vice president of community benefits, the partnership came about as HM sought to expand its impact.

Ryane Jackson. Photo by Matthew Oloyede.

“We have been working with a lot of local nonprofit and community organizations for many years, and historically a lot of our work has centered more on healthcare access issues that disproportionately impact people of color,” said Jackson. “However, in 2020 we realized that something was missing.”

That “something,” according to Jackson, involved confronting “the root cause of access issues” (i.e. social determinants like race, economic status, place of birth, etc).

Jackson said HM’s CPAM, the only center of its kind in the country dedicated to helping performing artists, was the perfect vehicle to deliver healthcare to a group that has traditionally been uninsured and/or under-insured—art professionals.

“The work that CPAM does, coupled with our interest in not only healthcare access issues, but also looking at the unique challenges that racial and ethnic minorities have, root cause issues, the Ensemble Theatre came to mind for many reasons. The Ensemble is a mainstay in Houston. They are a wonderful contributor to the arts when it comes to telling stories of African Americans. But within that you have actors actually performing artists. It felt like a perfect hybrid of a partnership.”

Though the initiative is new, talks of a possible Houston Methodist/Ensemble team-up have been in the works for years, according to the Ensemble’s artistic director, Eileen Morris.

Eileen Morris

“This conversation with Houston Methodist has been ongoing for at least five to seven years, regarding how we can partner,” said Morris, who cites HM’s Dr. Jackson, a faithful Ensemble patron, for spearheading those talks.

Now that this partnership has come to fruition, it should be noted it is not a merely benefitting the Ensemble and its actors, stage managers, designers and backstage crew who will receive a Black Card enabling them, if any type of medical issue arises, to access care from a designated HM location.

“HM is going to be bringing their community of employees to attend Ensemble productions. Having another audience that’s designated specifically to come and see shows elevates the performances and what we’re doing,” said Morris.

“We are focused on raising awareness of the unique contributions of the Black community to Houston and raising that awareness within our own employee population. So, we also have a relationship with the Ensemble where we’re able to promote some of their amazing shows during this season to our employees, encouraging them to go and hear these stories for themselves.”

Jackson says the HM/Ensemble partnership is just the first of many to come regarding serving the arts community.

“This is actually the first of what we hope to be many partnerships with additional arts or performing arts groups, whether they’re focused on African Americans and their stories, or Hispanic and Latino or Asian, or even LGBTQ, which is broader, in the future.”

For more info on CPAM, visit www.HoustonMethodist.org/performing-arts/services/.

Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...