Curtain Is Rising on Hospital's

Stage for Artists' Health Care

For New York's struggling and uninsured artists, health care often consists of echinacea and perhaps a visit to the nearest emergency room.

Now they can start singing, dancing and emoting for health care. Brooklyn's city-run Woodhull Hospital in Bushwick has announced that artists can contribute a performance for patients in exchange for treatment. Edward Fishkin, medical director at Woodhull, said many artists struggle to pay the $15 cost of a doctor's visit and often go without health care.

"It seemed much more valuable if we could use artists to entertain in the hospital and patients could get a much more therapeutic experience in the hospital," he said.

Each performance equals $40 on a sliding-scale pay rate, which may be the best-paying gig some of the artists have had in months. About 30 artists have applied for the program that allows them to "bank" their payments for treatment. Artists submit a proposal to be reviewed by the hospital's creative arts therapist. The first "show" debuts in two weeks.

As the saying goes, "Break a leg."

-- Michelle Garcia

Bluegrass State Hitches Its Cars

To a Racing 'Unbridled Spirit'

Two years after Kentucky introduced the smiley face license plate, state officials have bowed to public annoyance and wiped off the grin.

Kentucky last week officially replaced the smiling sunrise with a sketch of a racing horse, called the "Unbridled Spirit," available to all residents as of Aug. 1. It seems that the Bluegrass state just isn't a cootchy-coo kind of place.

"I don't know why everyone hated the smiley faces," said W. James Host, the state's secretary of commerce. "But no one liked it."

Some drivers pasted over the license plate logo. Others begged for a new license. County clerks reported getting hundreds of complaints. State officials eventually bowed to the inevitable, and this time they did it differently: There were focus groups, 13 ad agencies and an Internet vote. The racing horse drew 76 percent approval.

It took Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) no time to introduce the new logo during a news conference at the Kentucky Speedway. "When the governor unveiled it," Host said, "the one thing that drew applause in every speech was doing away with the smiley face."

-- Catharine Skipp

Big Bird on a Chimney Irks

Neighbors on Bluebird Court

Al Emmons thinks his neighbors on Bluebird Court in Greendale, Wis., have "an unhealthy obsession with the bird."

By that he means the three-foot plaster and stucco statue of the Sesame Street character Big Bird, painted blue, that is mounted on the chimney of a building he owns. Sculptures and art by Emmons adorn more than 100 other chimneys in the town -- he works as a chimney repairman servicing the "Greendale Originals," historic properties that were the village's first homes. Neighbors and tourists have been charmed by his sculptures of butterflies and pineapples.

But Big Bird, based on a Sesame Street episode where Big Bird was kidnapped and painted blue, has not been well received.

Residents have declared the statue unsightly, tacky and dangerous. They complained to the village plan commission, which denied a permit for the statue and recommended that the village board have it removed.

"If my neighbors would be neighborly and just ask me to take it down, I would in a heartbeat," said Emmons, whose own chimney hosts a Mickey Mouse sculpture. "But they just holler at me and scream at me."

-- Kari Lydersen

4 Find They Almost Crossed

One U.S. Border Too Many

The four Phoenix teenagers had crossed a border once before -- as children brought from Mexico into the United States, where they embarked on new, quietly successful lives. It wasn't until they tried to cross a second border, from the United States into Canada, that they ran into trouble.

On a June 2002 trip to a national science competition in Buffalo, the four classmates were spotted by immigration officers when they inquired at a visitor center about crossing for a better view of Niagara Falls. The officers determined the students had been living in the United States illegally and took immediate steps to have them deported.

On Thursday, the four won an unexpected victory in their three-year battle to stay in this country. An immigration judge ruled that agents violated their rights by singling them out on the basis of their Latino appearance.

The saga reopened a debate about whether laws should be changed to give the children of illegal immigrants a chance to apply for legal status. Some argue such a move would only encourage more families to sneak across the border. But Yuliana Huicochea, one of the four, said she should not pay for a decision her parents made.

"I'm an American. This is the only country I've ever known," she told the Arizona Republic. "I can't even think about leaving it."

-- Amy Argetsinger