Kathy Richard was a staff of one. That was before Hurricane Katrina struck. Almost overnight, her tiny office in Lafayette became the hub for an overwhelming outreach operation for New Orleans musicians scattered by the disaster.
As co-founding director of Acadiana Cultural Health Access, she was tapped to operate an outpost of the New Orleans Musicians Clinic in the region, connecting local musicians to healthcare. Katrina hit after she had been on the job just a year.
It wasn’t work that Kathy was trained to do. But it was a calling her life as a visual artist prepared her for.
“God put me in this job because everything that my patients, my friends, my clients need — I have been through,” she says. “I’ve had to wade through the healthcare system, not having health insurance. So I have a feel for how to get them where they need to go or what resources to get.”
Over the next few months, 3,000 musicians in diaspora would come to count on Kathy and her co-workers to find work, support and stay connected with their homes and communities from wherever they were.
Life eventually settled down after the storm, and Acadiana Cultural Health Access pared back down to an office of one and turned its attention back to the local community. But Kathy expanded its scope to include services for creatives of all stripes: painters and photographers, actors, writers and chefs.
“While you see them either up on stage or you see their art on the wall, it takes a lot to get that product, to get that music, to get even if you’re waitstaff to be on your feet all day,” she says.
Often, it’s just Kathy answering the phone for a friend in need. Those friends just happen to be musical legends like Carol Fran, Lee Allen Zeno or the David Egan.
Kathy worked with the late Egan to ban smoking in Louisiana’s music venues. Beginning in New Orleans, the campaign picked up steam, passing bans in Hammond, Baton Rouge and, finally, in Lafayette.
Lafayette took two tries, eventually passing the ban in 2016, just after Egan’s death from lung cancer. Along the way, the campaign gave musicians the microphone, providing them a way to advocate for themselves.
It’s the core tenet of her work: Louisiana’s musicians and artists are a precious resource.
“They deserve the best treatment our state can give them,” she says.
Celebrate Kathy and the rest of this year’s honorees Nov. 29 at Moncus Park.