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Actors and writers and now congressional lobbyists

Art is what binds us together. It illuminates the human condition. It’s good for the soul.

These are the kinds of arguments you usually hear when artists and cultural institutions ask for money. The advocacy group Be an #ArtsHero, created this summer by four New York filmmakers, takes a different approach.

“We are an industry, not a cause,” one of the volunteer group’s four organizers, writer-director Matthew-Lee Erlbach, said of the arts sector in a recent video interview. “According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, we generated $ 877 billion. It’s more than agriculture and mining combined. Yet, he stressed, there is no federal Ministry of Arts and Culture, while transport and agriculture have cabinet places.

Erlbach and his fellow Arts Hero founders – actors Carson Elrod and Brooke Ishibashi and writer-director-performer Jenny Grace Makholm – aren’t cultural mucky-mucks used to the halls of power. When the performing arts ceased, what they thought was their own survival.

Ishibashi said the campaign started simply as a way to rally the industry to advocate for the extension of federal unemployment compensation in the event of a pandemic, which was due to expire in August.

“We started out by cold calling people, creating assets and saying, ‘Here’s a toolkit, let it be known’. We lobby differently because we lobby for ourselves and for our own desperate need. We are all worried about how we are going to pay our rent and our mortgages. “

Unemployment benefit was not extended at the time, but Be an #ArtsHero continued. They began to create economic reports for members of Congress – in a joint conversation, Ishibashi and Erlbach casually referred to the relief efforts supported by the group, an alphabet soup of acronyms like CALMER (Culture, Arts , Libraries and Museums Emergency Relief) and DAWN (Defend Arts Workers Now).

As an extension of lobbying efforts by longtime organizations like Americans for the Arts, the group lobbied to help shape legislative language so that bills include relief for artists and workers, not just for artists and workers. institutions. Erlbach’s widely circulated open letter to the US Senate pleading for emergency aid drew 16,000 signatories, including grassroots members of the culture industry and celebrities, institutional and labor leaders, and advocacy groups.

The letter hammered home the group’s essential point: the arts matter because they represent a lot of money and they create jobs.

“We are here to change the conversation so that artistic workers can understand their intrinsic value because it is tied to an economic value, a dollar amount,” Ishibashi said. “These figures are beyond reproach.”

Erlbach added: “Ironically, the arts have a history problem in this country.”

“We’re here to become a legislative priority, and that’s part of the reframing of the paradigm that we are workers,” he said. “Whether you are a bailiff, a milliner, a museum guide, an administrator or a publicist, you are an arts and culture worker. “

Erlbach, who leads the group’s political outreach team, says Be an #ArtsHero met with representatives from dozens of House members and more than 60 Senate offices.

“It was like the legislative process was something someone else was doing,” he said. “Now that’s something we’re doing.”

The stimulus bill just passed by Congress has brought good news for the arts, including weekly unemployment supplements. “At $ 300, what happened wasn’t enough,” Be an #ArtsHero said in an email. “But it was something, and we’re proud to have lent our voice to the cause to get it.

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Actors Sue SAG-AFTRA Health Plan on Changes in Insurance

In August, hundreds of actors excoriated the health plan of the United States Union of Professional Television and Film Actors for changes that would result in some members no longer being eligible for health insurance because they were unable to work during the pandemic.

Now 10 plan participants are suing, in a class action filing.

Seven-time Emmy winner, 91-year-old Ed Asner and nine other participants in the SAG-AFTRA health plan filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court on Tuesday, opposing benefit cuts and changes eligibility conditions in the plan which are to come into effect on January 1. The SAG-AFTRA health plan and its trustees are named as defendants.

Mr. Asner, who is the principal applicant, is a past president of SAG and a current member of the SAG-AFTRA National Council. He will lose coverage when the changes take effect because he will not meet the new allowable pay threshold, according to the lawsuit, which claims the cuts “unfairly and illegally” discriminate on the basis of age. (Members 65 or older will no longer be allowed to use their residual income to qualify for the new threshold if they are receiving a union pension.)

The lawsuit alleges two counts of breach of fiduciary duty, and one count each of participating in a prohibited transaction and failing to disclose important information to plan members.

“Much less drastic and fair adjustments were available for a one-time event like Covid-19,” according to the lawsuit.

Many artists are facing a loss of health care coverage at a time when film jobs are scarce and the live theater is almost completely closed. The health insurance fund that covers performers announced changes in October that increased the number of weeks they would need to work to qualify for coverage, and Local 802, the musicians’ union, launched a #SaveNYCMusicians campaign aimed at strengthening the health of the union. fund, financed by contributions from employers.

The lawsuit seeks financial damages, wrestles control of the health plan from the trustees, and appoints an “independent trustee” to manage it and possibly reverse the changes.

On Tuesday, more than a dozen high profile actors, including Mark Hamill, Whoopi Goldberg and Morgan Freeman, criticized upcoming benefit cuts for the elderly in a video posted by the SOS Health Plan, a group of members. of the SAG-AFTRA opposed to health. Plan for changes.

“Why isn’t the union fighting for me?” Ms. Goldberg asks in the video. “I have contributed to the health plan for my entire career,” she said, adding that she was very angry.

A spokesperson for the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

In August, the health plan told members in an email that it would increase the eligibility floor for those earning $ 25,950 per year, from $ 18,040 as of Jan. 1, and that premiums would also increase. According to the email, the changes responded to projected deficits of $ 141 million this year and $ 83 million in 2021.

Nearly 20,000 people have signed a petition calling on the health plan to reverse the changes.

“All American actors are stranded right now,” John E. Brady, a film, television and advertising actor who has been a union member for more than 30 years, told The Times in August.

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James Bond actors say Sean Connery ‘defined an era and a style’

Sean Connery was recalled on Saturday by other actors and producers of the James Bond franchise as “one of the real greats of cinema” who most embodied the fictional spy character James Bond.

For James Bond fans and those who knew him, Mr. Connery, who died at the age of 90, was considered one of the best actors to embrace the role of “Dr. Non ”(1962),“ From Russia With Love ”(1963),“ Goldfinger ”(1964),“ Thunderball ”(1965),“ You Only Live Twice ”(1967),“ Diamonds Are Forever ”(1971) and“ Never say never again ”(1983).

Only four actors who played James Bond – also known as Agent 007 – in the movies are alive today: George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

David Niven, who played James Bond in the satirical spy film “Casino Royale” (1967), died in 1983. Roger Moore, who played James Bond for over a decade, beginning with “Live and Let Die ”(1973) and ending with“ A View to a Kill ”(1985), died in 2017.

Mr Craig, who has played James Bond since 2006, said in a statement on website 007 on Saturday that Mr Connery “sets an era and a style” with his films.

Credit…Carlo Allegri / Reuters

“The spirit and charm he portrayed on screen could be measured in megawatts; he helped create the modern blockbuster, ”Mr. Craig said. “He will continue to influence actors and filmmakers for years to come. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones. Wherever it is, I hope there is a golf course.

Mr. Lazenby, who played James Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969), said on Instagram Saturday that Mr. Connery had inspired him.

“I have met Sean a few times and I was happy that he gave my Bond film, ‘To Her Majesty’s Secret Service,’ his seal of approval,” said Mr Lazenby.

“But, for me, the most important thing was that his job went far beyond Bond: in charity, in family, in politics and in golf,” added Mr Lazenby. “A man after my own heart. A great actor, a great man and an underrated artist has passed away.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Lazenby wished Mr. Connery “all the best” on his 90th birthday, calling him “the greatest Leap of all time”.

“Sean, to me, has always been the man,” Mr Lazenby wrote. “I walked in his footsteps – I had to look and dress like Sean Connery – I went to his barber and tailors. I wasn’t scared when I got on the part – he’s the one who inspired me never to hesitate.

Mr. Dalton, whose first James Bond film was “The Living Daylights” (1987), said in a statement: “Sean was a wonderful presence. A great leading man.

On Twitter Saturday, Robert carlyle, the villain of James Bond Renard in “The world is not enough” (1999), called Mr. Connery “A pioneer, a true legend and a gentleman.”

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli told website 007 that Mr. Connery revolutionized the world “with his cruel and witty portrayal of the sexy and charismatic secret agent.”

“He was and will always be remembered as the original James Bond whose indelible entry into film history began when he announced those unforgettable words -” The name of Bond … James Bond “, they said. stated in the press release.

Mr Connery’s death is the third James Bond franchise death since September.

Diana Rigg, 82, played the daughter of a crime boss in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only James Bond film to play Mr. Lazenby. In October, “Goldfinger” actress Margaret Nolan died at age 76.