EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS: Since the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020, The Actors Fund, the 140-year-old organization that provides emergency financial aid and other support services to workers in the performing arts industries, has distributed over $26.8 million in emergency financial assistance – rent, groceries, medication, health insurance premiums – to approximately 17,900 people. The pandemic-era distribution is more than 13 times the amount of assistance typically provided by the Fund in an average year.
With its name and services reaching an unprecedented number of people, a rebrand might seem more than a little counterintuitive, but that’s exactly what Fund officials announced last night: From now on, The Actors Fund the , a nickname designed to better reflect the full range of industry professionals served by the group.
The change was announced last night by actor and Fund Chairman Brian Stokes Mitchell at the Fund’s annual gala held in Los Angeles and New York. The evening, which was simulcast from both coasts, raised a record $1.7 million for the organization, which celebrates its 140th anniversary in June.
“It’s a new name and a new look, with the same mission,” Mitchell said. “We recognize the dedication of the technicians, cameramen, stagehands, writers, musicians, managers, actors and thousands of others who work in film, television, radio, music, theatre, dance and opera. They all contribute to the cultural dynamism of our country. We appreciate them. We support them. And the Fund is there for each of them.
During the pandemic, the Fund, as it will be called for Short and Intensified Operations, serving more than 60,000 people in 2020 and 2021, a 68% increase over the previous two non-pandemic years. Emergency financial assistance of $26.8 million to approximately 17,900 people has been distributed since March 2020.
“We have a long history of working to meet the needs of those working in the entertainment industry, across the country,” said Joseph Benincasa, President and CEO of the Fund. “Now, with our new name, we can reflect the full breadth of what we do and the wide range of performing arts and entertainment professionals we serve.”
In health insurance alone, the Fund has helped more than 5,700 people navigate and enroll in insurance plans during the pandemic, but some confusion has persisted in the organization, even among people it is designed to help: When someone who needs help is told about the services available, chances are the response will be “But I’m not an actor”.
“I remember my first week on the job,” Benincasa said in an exclusive interview with Deadline, “I think I pitched United Way to New York for a grant. , who I knew quite well – and I had Helen Hayes on my arm at the time – said: “Actors don’t need any help. Actors are rich. Of course I had to get into the act.” base on the need for health insurance, affordable health care, direct financial assistance when they reached the low period, so we obtained funding from the United Way.
“Whenever I or any of us talk about the Actors Fund,” Mitchell told Deadline, “we always have to say, ‘It’s not just for actors. It’s almost like a slogan – “It’s not just for actors” – because people don’t understand. As soon as they hear Actors Fund, all they hear is actors, and then they think it’s a fund for actors, even though it’s been explained in so many different ways.
With the new name, the Fund will continue the advertising launch with major solicitations and a goal to triple the number of people served nationwide, Benincasa said, including in markets such as Atlanta, Miami, Las Vegas and others with major entertainment industries.
“We have set ourselves the goal of helping three times as many people over the next three to five years,” said Benincasa. “Very often, direct financial assistance is the first way we help them, but then they go into different Fund programs to get help. What we anticipate is that because we’ve made this transition to the digital format and this hybrid way of helping people in every state, more people will understand that they can turn to the Fund for ugly.
Stokes and Benincasa said a name change has been under consideration for years, with the heightened visibility that accompanies the pandemic prompting the organization to stop postponing. “We did a very thorough investigation of the members,” Benincasa told Deadline, “and all the information came back to us over four or five years that the name was getting in the way of people understanding who we are, who we help.”
With its explicit new name of The Entertainment Community Fund – and a new logo and official tagline “Supporting a Life in the Arts” – the organization seeks to clarify exactly who it serves – simply, everyone who works in the arts of stage and entertainment. The pandemic, Benincasa and Mitchell said, has made the full extent of the needs within the professional entertainment community in cities across the country clearer than ever. While employment conditions have improved from the worst of the pandemic shutdown, the performing arts are recovering more slowly than other industries, with Covid continuing to disrupt in-person programming from Broadway to regional theaters, concert halls and other entertainment venues nationwide.
With its new name and a vigorous campaign of donations and grants, the Fund hopes to triple the number of people served over the next five years, in theatre, film, television and other arts, reaching workers with or without a public role. “IIt’s for the people behind the scenes and on stage,” Benincasa said. “He’s the director of photography. It is the director. It’s the machinist. He’s the blunderer. He’s the best boy. It’s absolutely everyone.”
“We first tried to do this about twelve years ago,” Stokes said. “When this first came up in conversation, there was a very lively discussion in the conference room and with the staff as well. We then decided it was not the right time. But with the pandemic, and more openness and more inclusivity in so many organizations and groups, it’s kind of this perfect storm of all the good stuff coming together.
Even more recently, he continued, the name change sparked “a very, very heated discussion” within the organization, with some concerned that a new name would give up considerable brand equity.
“As long as everyone knows we used to be The Actors Fund, everyone will eventually come,” Stokes said, adding that wording like “Formerly The Actors Fund” will follow the new name for a transition period.
Fund partners, including labor unions and other nonprofits, support the name change, with Meredith Stiehm, President of the Writers Guild of America West, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, National Executive Director of SAG-AFTRA, Matthew D. Loeb, International President of IATSE, and Lesli Linka, President of the Directors Guild of America. Glatter and Actors’ Equity Association president Kate Shindle released statements of support. “We couldn’t think of a more appropriate name to carry on this extraordinary legacy than the Entertainment Community Fund,” said Tom Viola, Executive Director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. “It really expresses the wide range of people assisted and the breadth of services provided to all.”
At last night’s gala, actress and fund administrator Chandra Wilson said, “If you’re doing stand-up music in Chicago or music videos in Atlanta, you should know that the Entertainment Community Fund is here to help. you. Performing arts and entertainment are a fundamental part of every community, large and small, across the country, and the Fund is here to help people in this space, no matter what they are doing. We recognize that sustaining a life in the arts can be particularly difficult. That’s why we come together as a community to help each other.
While most of the Fund’s upcoming expansions will take place in the digital realm, the organization has announced plans for the creation of The Hollywood Arts Collective, comprising two buildings that together will provide affordable space for arts and entertainment professionals. entertainment for living, working and creating in Hollywood.
The Fund also operates several affordable housing residences in New York and Los Angeles, as well as educational seminars on affordable housing options, determining eligibility, and preparing for the housing application process.
Other Fund Services: The Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts, a program of the Entertainment Community Fund and Mt. Sinai Doctors, located at the Entertainment Community Fund headquarters in Times Square, and The Actors Fund Home in Inglewood, New Jersey, a residence with assisted living, skilled nursing, short-term rehabilitation and memory care. (The Actors Fund Home will retain the Actors Fund name.)
And with the new name came new awards: At last night’s gala, the Entertainment Community Fund’s first Medals of Honor went to Emmy Award-winning actor and activist Uzo Aduba; President and CEO of Paramount Global Bob Bakish; Mercedes Ruehl, Oscar, Tony Award and Golden Globe Award winning actress; and President and CEO of The Shubert Organization, Robert E. Wankel.