Artbound: Valley Days & the Actors Fund Partners

Arts for LA presents reFRAME, a series of first-person explorations of projects, places, and principles that demonstrate the ways arts and culture are building the future of Los Angeles. Each installment in this series showcases ways in which arts, culture, and arts education can be employed as tools to address issues facing Angelenos in all aspects of our lives and ultimately contribute to a higher quality of life for all residents.

By Keith McNutt

Professionals working in Los Angeles' entertainment industry are frequently faced with the prospect of not being able to pay bills, find healthcare or affordable housing, securing work outside the industry, and much more. When these people are in need, The Actors Fund is here to help. A national human services organization, we serve more than 13,500 individuals every year, working both above and below the line in film, theatre, television, music, opera, radio, dance, comedy, and more. Our office on Wilshire Boulevard in Hollywood is L.A.'s home-base for The Fund's services (we also have offices in New York and Chicago), which include support groups, youth programs, financial and health insurance counseling, social services, emergency financial assistance, and employment and training services.

But since L.A. is a sprawling metropolis that encompasses more than 450 square miles, when you're short on cash, filling up the gas tank to drive across town for assistance can take a sizeable -- and painful -- chunk out of a dwindling budget. So in 2009, when gas prices were through the roof and people just couldn't afford to get to us, we started looking for ways to take our services closer to our clients. We put out a call for partners to periodically host our staff in a different part of town, and Local 80 IATSE, Motion Picture Studio Grips/Crafts Service, offered to host Valley Days in its Burbank location.

Held every other month, Valley Days regularly attracts 75-100 attendees. Organized by The Actors Fund Work Program (AWP) -- our employment and training program that helps industry professionals identify and find sideline work and new careers -- the day-long event begins with a Networking Breakfast that features some kind of icebreaking activity, as well as speakers offering helpful information on topics such as marketing, social networking, internet research, or professional networking. Afternoon sessions vary, and have included workshops on managing cash flow for artists, job seeking skills, resume writing and health insurance. And throughout the day, our staff provides individual counseling appointments for information on social services, emergency financial assistance and health insurance.

Local 80 President Russ Nordstedt.Local 80 President Russ Nordstedt.

Some of the benefits of Valley Days are more straightforward: the skill-based technological training we offer is vital for many looking for work in this rapidly-changing world of work. Additionally, people have been able to take advantage of our services that wouldn't have been able to, and, interestingly, word has spread beyond our usual sphere -- an average of 40% of Valley Days attendees are new to The Actors Fund.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Valley Days has helped break through the geographic isolation in L.A., enabling a unique mix of people from all entertainment industry disciplines to network, commiserate, and build a much-needed community. Because of L.A.'s enormous size and the way the entertainment industry itself works, people often feel isolated, like there's no real support system when they're facing a rough patch, whatever it may be. Attendees have told us they never knew so many people were facing the same situation they were, and how Valley Days makes them feel less alone. By enabling them to come together in this way, it lifts many of them from their job-search depression (they are no longer alone and can bounce ideas off each other), which in turn helps re-invigorate their efforts on numerous levels.

The job search support system Valley Days created became so indispensable, in fact, that regular attendees started asking us to set up something to enable them to get together more frequently. So, in January 2012 we started our Job Clubs, two support groups -- one at Local 80 in the Valley and one in our West Hollywood office -- of no more than 15 members each, which meet seven times over the course of 14 weeks (and when one Job Club has come to an end, another one is formed with new members). These new groups not only foster camaraderie with like-minded job seekers, but also offer another place to share the news of their successes and failures, enabling them to help each other and provide a new level of insight and inspiration for their members. And the proof is in the pudding: in the Job Club's first cycle, half of the participants were successful in finding some sort of full-time, part-time, temporary, or sideline work.

The more The Actors Fund can expand services like these -- and make them easier to access throughout the city -- the healthier our entire community will ultimately be. We're incredibly grateful to Russ Nordstedt and everyone at Local 80 for providing our clients with a gathering place, and enabling us to further our reach (Local 80 now hosts computer training classes for two semesters each year, as well). By partnering with Local 80 to bring industry professionals together in this way, Valley Days has helped countless people feel better about the situation they're in, and helped them make smart decisions that help them improve their lives.

The Actors Fund is so pleased with the success of Valley Days, its looking for additional venues in order to expand the reach of is services even further. If you'd like to donate space, please contact The Actors Fund's Los Angeles office at 323.933.9244. And for more on upcoming Valley Days events and to RSVP, visit The Actors Fund website.

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