The Community Entertainment Fund mobilizes to support life in the arts

The Entertainment Community Fund (formerly the Actors Fund) has been there for everyone on stage, in front of the camera and behind the scenes since 1882. This national human service organization has proven to be an essential resource for people who work in film, theatre, television, music, opera, radio and dance.

The Entertainment Community Fund has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; a qualified, assisted retirement home in Englewood, NJ; and supportive housing residences in Brooklyn and Manhattan, NY, and West Hollywood, CA.

Joe Benincasa, President and CEO of the Fund, oversees the organization’s comprehensive support services, including health and wellness, career and life, affordable housing and more. I’ve known about the Fund since I was president of the Writers Guild of America West, but I didn’t know the true depth of their reach until I got involved nearly ten years ago as a member of the board of directors. I caught up with Joe to find out more about the Fund’s growth over the past few years.

Christopher Keyser: What makes the entertainment industry so crucial to our society?

Joe Benincasa: Entertainment is the quintessential American export. It generates over $1 trillion for our country’s GDP. In the cities of the country, it stimulates tourism and economic development. Imagine the last years without it! Impossible.

CK: How does the Fund support the entertainment community?

JB: For 140 years, the Fund has been the only organization – with a coast-to-coast reach – committed to helping all who work in entertainment and the performing arts, in all aspects of their lives and throughout their career. We provide support by helping clients manage their health, life and finances, as well as find mental health services, to avoid crises. And then, when crises strike, we are there to help overcome them and get back on our feet.

CK: Why did the Actors Fund change its name to Entertainment Community Fund?

JB: The Actors Fund was founded in 1882, when the word “actor” described anyone working in entertainment. Since then, we have grown exponentially to support all performing arts and entertainment professionals throughout their lives. Since the peak of the pandemic in 2020, we’ve seen 63% of the arts workforce become completely unemployed, with 95% reporting a loss of income. This is where the Fund made sure our artists and industry workers were kept afloat. The Fund is at the service of all those who work in the field of entertainment. We are still the Fund and we have a renewed commitment to serve even more people and in more places.

CK: How does your new tagline, “Supporting a Life in the Arts,” convey the Fund’s mission and purpose?

JB: Life in the arts requires resilience, and sometimes the pressures and obstacles are too great to bear alone. The help we provide enables industry players not only to persist, but to thrive in all aspects of their artistic lives.

CK: What message do you have for those working in entertainment?

JB: As artists and entertainment workers support the community, the community must also support those who make art. From your first job in this profession until your retirement, we are always there for you.

CK: What future for the Fund?

JB: One plan we have in the works is the Hollywood Arts Collective. This new construction project will meet the affordable housing and space needs of Los Angeles’ cultural community, as well as Hollywood’s economic development and employment goals. Currently under construction, this project is the culmination of 12 years of cultural planning and development by the Entertainment Community Fund, developers Thomas Safran & Associates and the City of Los Angeles Departments of Cultural Affairs, Housing and Transportation. , as well as council member Mitch. O’Farrell.

Moreover, as crises often do, the pandemic has revealed deep needs and very difficult truths. If a life in the performing arts and entertainment was previously precarious, the pandemic has pushed many of those working in the industry to the brink. In a few days, the Fund was transformed to meet the needs of a desperate population. In total, since March 2020, our programs have reached more than 68,000 people. We have distributed over $26.7 million in direct financial assistance related to COVID-19.

But for every thousand people we’ve met and served, it’s become clear that there’s ten times that number we haven’t reached yet, in every city and every state. For starters, we’re deepening our relationships and partnerships in cities across the country that are centers of production and the arts, to better serve the entertainment professionals who live and work in those areas. Their work is essential to the cultural life of this country. They are the entertainment industry of tomorrow, and the Fund wants to be there for them. We have ambitious goals for the Entertainment Community Fund, and that starts with increasing the number of people we help.

With everything in the pipeline, we’re excited to embark on our next chapter for the Entertainment Community Fund. To learn more about our efforts to support the entertainment and performing arts community, visit our website entertainmentcommunity.org.

Christopher Keyser is a writer, producer and board member of the Entertainment Community Fund.

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