Bartering the art of medicine for the medicine of art at Kingston’s O+ Festival

Artist Joseph Mastroianni working on his mural in the former uptown parking garage. (photo by Julie O’Connor)

It’s no secret that some of our best, most talented artists and musicians struggle to survive and don’t have health care insurance. The O+ Festival was designed to provide immediate help, by enabling artists and musicians to get free or reduced medical and dental care in exchange for their participation, as well as to shine a spotlight on the issue. It has been a hit, and this year the Festival – now in its third year and scheduled for October 5, 6 and 7 – will feature over 40 bands performing at various venues around Uptown Kingston. There will also be 41 artists, whose work will be displayed on building walls, in murals and storefront windows; a consultation with performance artist Linda Montano; a free health expo; and tai chi, yoga and “gong bath” sessions.

For a full schedule of performances, classes and other events, visit On the site, you can also prepurchase your $25 wristband, which covers admission to all events, including a performance by the Felice Brothers and Richard Buckner at the Dutch Reformed Church on Friday evening. The wristbands will also be for sale at the door, and single-show admission tickets are an option. For updates, check out the Festival on Facebook and Twitter.

Last week, artist Thom Grady, a member of O+ Festival’s Art Committee, was helping install the 14 pasteups of work by artists, which mostly adorn the buildings along Fair Street. Some of the paper forms, which are attached to building walls with wheat-paste, are digital photograph prints or eerie blue cyanotypes, such as Emily Gui’s series depicting the lunar cycles. All will be taken down after a month, before they get too weatherbeaten.

This year, in addition to the 14 wheat-paste artists, there will be “living moss art, storefront windows with everything from data-embedded knitwear to steel sculpture, projections from the Cave Dogs, Polly Law’s digital Exquisite Corpse and video art, as well as more ‘traditionally hung’ paintings at BSP, Sissy’s Café and Blue 57,” according to Festival organizers. Visitors to the Festival in Uptown Kingston can do more than observe artworks; they can also participate in an interactive drawing session held by Dr. Sketchy at Boitson’s restaurant, with two models posed in theatrical dress (sorry, there’ll be no nudes, although there will be a hint of burlesque, Grady said).

Students from the Advanced Painting class at Kingston High School are participating in the Festival; each is making a painting on a piece of vinyl donated by Timely Signs, to be displayed on a piece of green plywood erected at the patio end of Wall Street. The Friends of Historic Kingston are also chipping in: The organization has commissioned artists Jessica Posner and Michael Asbill to create 12 life-sized silhouettes of period shopkeepers, collaged with fragments of historic photos depicting Kingston’s shops circa 1914. Six of the silhouettes will be displayed in the Uptown area.

Three artists are painting murals: one at Forsyth Park and the others on two black-painted cement walls comprising the base of the former parking garage. Last week, Joseph Mastroianni, who recently earned an MFA from SUNY-New Paltz, had covered a wall-and-a-half with his “little dudes,” hieroglyphic-like doodles. Originally from the Albany area, Mastroianni described his Keith Haring-inspired forms as “glorified doodles, stream of conscious drawings done with a paintbrush,” in either blue or yellow.

His spontaneous grinning faces, comical aliens and other images – a total of 156 on one wall and eight larger characters on the wall adjacent to the first – are neatly grouped into orderly grids, which tone down the anarchy of this graffiti art, as if each doodle were waiting to break out of jail. Yet the effect is scintillating: His yellow and blue squiggles seem to be gyrating against the black ground, fooling the eye. The collective work is monumental in size and encyclopedic in content.

Mastroianni, who usually works in pen on small wood panels, said that he was thrilled to blow up his imagery and interact with the public, who can view his work from a distance and then explore the details, close up. “I’m really into the public aspect, reaching people who are afraid to go into a gallery, who otherwise don’t see art,” he said. Mastroianni added that he “wasn’t into illegally scribbling graffiti,” although he loves painting on walls, having covered his studio with squiggles at school, à la Kenny Scharf. The mayor-approved paintable parking lot wall was hence a dream come true.

So is getting the free dental care. Mastroianni, who works full-time, said that he lost his health insurance when he graduated from grad school. At the Festival, he’s having a dental examination and cleaning and fillings put in, if need be, for only $20 apiece. “There’s nothing like this anywhere else,” he said of the Festival. “It just gets bigger and bigger. It’s really nice to get that support, that help from the O+ team.” To see more of Mastroianni’s art, visit

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