A Crusader on What Ails Artists

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Julie Sokolow has made a documentary about the issues faced by uninsured artists. Credit Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

PITTSBURGH — Beer bottles clinked and indie-rock classics played overhead at a gallery opening here on a Friday night recently, as one artist after another chatted with Julie Sokolow, a filmmaker and health care advocate who has documented the Pittsburgh scene in detail.

There was Eanna Holton, who makes horror masks and props and recalled spending the last five years paying off a $10,000 surgery bill for her toddler. China Horrell, her co-worker, had a pulmonary embolism that cost more than $100,000 to treat. And Daniel McCloskey, a comic-book artist, told of being uninsured when he smashed his teeth in a bicycle accident last year, at a cost of more than $22,000.

These are among the dozens of stories Ms. Sokolow, 26, has collected over the past two years, showing how the lives of Pittsburgh artists are intertwined with their struggles over the costs of medical coverage. Her online video series, “Healthy Artists,” has chronicled the experiences of more than 40 painters, poets and musicians — talented, ambitious and often with a painful story of medical debt — and drawn the attention of national media figures like Michael Moore.

“Everyone in America has a health care story,” said Ms. Sokolow, whose project has culminated in a new 30-minute documentary, “Healthy Artists: The Movie.”

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