Hollywood artists are creating PPE for the medical community
James Bednark remembers meeting with the director, producers, and others involved with Amazon’s untitled Tracy Oliver project in New York City when it was announced that Broadway theaters were shutting down in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were all sitting in the meeting, kind of looking at each other, and asking, ‘Are we going to be filming this episode? What’s going to happen?’” recalls Bednark, who was previously art director for Showtime’s Ray Donovan between 2018 and early 2020. “That night, we got a phone call from the unit production manager and the producer saying that we’re shut down and the call for tomorrow was canceled…We were told we were going to be down for two weeks, and two weeks turned into indefinite.”
Bednark’s day job may have stalled, but he hasn’t been idle. Instead, he’s been busy sourcing materials for ArtCube Army, a group of largely New York–based film, television, and theater art department freelancers and related businesses making personal protective equipment (or PPE) for medical workers facing a shortage.
Bednark has been working closely with Eva Radke, a former art department coordinator, who is the CEO and cofounder of ArtCube Nation, a national networking organization for showbiz art professionals. The ArtCube Army emerged as a New York–based, pandemic-focused offshoot while unemployed film industry workers pivot in a time of crisis—a natural fit for people in their line of work, Radke and Bednark say.
“It’s a community of people who already have to source weird things, already work under pressure when there’s zero room for error,” says Radke, who was inspired to hop into action last month as news of a slow supply chain began to spread.
The group also launched a fundraiser April 3, which has so far made more than $13,000 of its $20,000 goal, to help with buying materials and delivery costs.
As of Tuesday, Radke says, volunteers have been able to produce at least 10,000 face masks; more than 6,000 face shields for New York City–area hospitals, eldercare facilities, and EMS drivers; and nearly 700 shields for other cities and states, New Orleans and Oregon, among them. The fundraiser also enabled the purchase of extra supplies such as surgical gowns and scrub caps.
About 120 people in New York City are involved in the effort, alongside fabrication shops, and even some 3D printers in New Jersey who’ve “put the word out,” Radke says.
“We’re really hyperlocal right now because that’s what we can control and those are the vendors we know,” says Radke of the group’s volunteer workforce, while adding that they’re “happy to fulfill any orders that we get in from anywhere around the country.”
Many of the local supplies they’ve made have been sent to health care workers via home delivery, a fact that Sophie Balzora, a physician at NYU Langone Health, appreciates. She reached out to ArtCube before the expected surge in coronavirus cases, worried that she and her husband—also a physician—would not have a sufficient amount of PPE.
“In preparation and as a precaution, I reached out to them to request three face shields,” she tells Fortune via email. “They were beyond fantastic and responsive—so kind and communicative. And they provided me with five face shields…I was so astounded and so incredibly grateful.”
Bednark has tapped his network of vendors to acquire everything from foam and elastic to marine vinyl, so that other volunteers can assemble needed face shields. But there have been times when shortages of materials have required the ArtCube crew to get creative and find alternatives that will do the job, which is something they can do because they’re a small group, as both he and Radke point out.
“We’re not worried about retooling an entire factory,” Bednark says. “We can easily change up to respond to what’s available.”
Radke is thrilled with the results of the fundraiser so far, the businesses helping her group, and the feedback from the medical community.
“Health care workers are thanking us? I can’t even accept it,” she says. “No no, this is our gratitude towards you.”
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