Feature Stories

Denton Music and Arts Collaborative Helps Save Lives of DFW Musicians

Barbara Black performs at one of DMAC's fundraising events.
Barbara Black performs at one of DMAC's fundraising events. Leah Cook

The average life expectancy of a musician is 20 to 25 years fewer than the general population, according to a psychology study published by Sydney University. Fortunately for the people of Denton and Dallas, the Denton Music and Arts Collaborative has its musicians covered.

DMAC is a fast-growing nonprofit organization that launched last year. Styled after the successful and long-running Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, DMAC subsidizes the cost of health care insurance for artistic and musical artists who would otherwise be unable to afford insurance premiums on their own. DMAC seeks to keep its Denton artists from going under financially because of rising insurance premiums or unexpected medical costs.

DMAC was a concept concocted by a group of friends who worked for the now defunct 35 Denton, a large three-day annual music festival. The friends wanted to stay together even after 35 Denton went on indefinite hiatus, but more important, they wanted to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

“We were tired of volunteering our time for for-profit institutions,” says Andy Knapik, one of the co-founders of DMAC. “So we created something that allowed us to work together and give back to the community at the same time.”

“Andy and I were talking about it one day, and I said, ‘You know, for years we’ve said we should start a nonprofit. What if we give it a shot?'" says Nic Bagherpour, president and co-founder.

The idea began when Bagherpour was hospitalized for pneumonia.

Like many other working-class Americans without health insurance, Bagherpour tried to avoid the cost of a doctor’s visit and toughed it out so he wouldn’t miss work. It was only at the insistent urging of his roommate that he finally went to a doctor, who immediately sent him straight to intensive care. There, Bagherpour was told his pneumonia strain was so severe it required having hardened layers of tissue peeled from his lungs.

“I asked the doctor, ‘What are my options here?’” Bagherpour says. “And he said, ‘Well, you can get the surgery, or you can die.’”

“I asked the doctor, ‘What are my options here?’ And he said, ‘Well, you can get the surgery, or you can die.’” – Nic Bagherpour

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The final cost of the unexpected hospitalization was $32,000.

Bagherpour had no choice but to accept the debt and its negative impact on his life.

With this incident came the determination from Bagherpour and Knapik to help their fellow musicians and artists avoid a similar fate. After 35 Denton ended, they channeled their organizational experience, teamwork and resolve to create DMAC and establish it as a nonprofit organization.

To raise money for their cause, DMAC takes a more direct approach instead of pouring donation dollars into advertising and hosting events.

“We have a responsibility to the people that we’re supporting,” Bagherpour says. “So we don’t want to end up in a situation where we spend $1,000 to make $1,000.”

They accept donations through their website or through DMAC fundraising events, where attendees can nab a donated handmade art piece or homemade brisket during an art auction and afterward attend concerts by performers, such as Barbara Black or the Guy Clark Tribute Show, hosted compliments of the venue for DMAC.

Bagherpour says DMAC doesn’t measure its success by the amount of money raised but rather the amount of money that can go back into subsidizing its members and increasing member enrollment.

Initially set with a goal of six members and two or three fundraising events annually, they surpassed their target by enrolling 17 new members. They also received an outpouring of support and requests to host fundraising events by local businesses willing to front the operational costs.

DMAC's services are not limited to subsidies. DMAC also helps its members navigate the health care insurance system, so they can choose the best and most affordable plan. DMAC also stresses the importance of getting regular health check-ups and dental cleanings to musicians and artists who may have gone years without insurance.

DMAC also supports members with mental health issues by helping them find local, affordable mental health resources. They reach out to struggling musicians and artists to reassure them that DMAC services aren’t a scam.

“When we first approached them to talk about it, it was basically ‘This is what we’re doing,’” program director Aubrey Mortensen says. “‘We’re not selling anything to you. We just want to help you so you can stay here and afford to stay here.’”

DMAC membership is free with no hidden costs for a member. DMAC screens subsidy applicants to establish eligibility in compliance with the Affordable Care Act and the member’s tax status. To receive DMAC membership, a member must prove that 51 percent of their income comes from artistic or musical work. They must then sign up for a plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace, with DMAC staff available to help applicants navigate the process. With this, DMAC officially verifies the need for subsidy and how much they will subsidize.

Members who gain complete health insurance coverage through other employment opportunities will be graduated out, but DMAC will still provide support even when they no longer provide subsidies. If the ACA is ever repealed or revised, the DMAC staff says they will still find a way to provide services for members instead of leaving them high and dry.

Now a year old, DMAC has already made tangible results in the music and arts community. Slobberbone lead singer Brent Best recalls how DMAC has already helped him and his wife.

“Thank God for them, or we’d be paying off an operation for years, hoping nothing else came up,” Best says.

“Thank God for them, or we’d be paying off an operation for years, hoping nothing else came up." – Brent Best

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Best was an uninsured musician for years while his wife worked as a college professor with a health care plan that covered only the semester months when she qualified as full-time. Before DMAC started, they found out she needed an expensive operation for a painful and potentially life-threatening issue. When DMAC launched, Brent enrolled them as members under the family plan and got a stable insurance plan for them both. With DMAC, not only were they able to get her procedure done almost a year earlier than expected, but they were also spared from what would have amounted to an estimated five-figure medical debt.

Bagherpour recalls when Best shared his story onstage at an event. He says Best became emotional, cried and gave people hugs during the show.

“I just started bawling,” Bagherpour says. “It was a huge moment for us. I think for a lot of us … when he told that story onstage, that moment was when we all looked at each other and said, ‘This is it. This is the reason that we’re doing this.’”

Another DMAC member, Dan Mojica, owner of joint bar and venue Dan’s Silver Leaf, says DMAC helped him and his wife maintain their life in Denton. Bagherpour says Mojica’s business is a second home to many in the town’s arts and music community and an integral part of DMAC’s success. He says DMAC hopes to keep local community members from being forced to move away from their friends, family and community and to prevent Denton’s vibrant music and arts life from dying out.
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