To your health!

Horizon CEO Kevin Conlin makes arts a part of mission to keep New Jersey "sound."


Why does an insurance company that provides healthcare to 3.8 million New Jerseyans consider sponsoring an outdoor concert series “central” to its mission?


Because “happy people are healthier people, that’s really the essence of the answer,” says Kevin Conlin, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.


“There is undoubtedly a connection there. That’s why we see an overlap between health and participation in the arts, and that’s why we feel a responsibility to support the arts.”


Under Conlin’s leadership, Horizon’s support for arts organizations across New Jersey is robust, a key part of the “giving strategy” of the company’s philanthropic arm, the Horizon Foundation.  Conlin notes that the company partners with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to send musicians to hospitals around the state, to play both for patients and their families, and for medical professionals. The Horizon Foundation’s list of grantees includes dozens of standout Jersey arts organizations, from the McCarter Theatre Center to the Newark Boys Chorus School.


But the most prominent of the Foundation’s arts engagements is its title sponsorship of the Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City concert series—the free, outdoor performances held every Thursday, all summer long, in Chambers Plaza, NJPAC’s “front yard.”


“To me, it’s a natural thing for us to support,” says Conlin.


“It’s a vibrant offering, it’s a couple blocks from where we’re seated, and it provides a fun forum for those who work in Newark and live in Newark to come together and listen to some of the best performers in the world, and to do so in a nice, open, healthy environment. These are all things we stand for.”


The series, which has become a signature summer event in Newark over the past two decades, is also a way for Horizon to reach out to Newarkers and share healthcare information. At every concert, bright Horizon blue pop-up tents ring the perimeter of the venue, staffed by Horizon employees who offer “light” screenings, pamphlets and information about “resources that can help people to lead healthier lives,” says Conlin.


“We think it’s a great way to engage with local residents, to help raise their health status awareness,” Conlin says. “Every week our team goes out there, and every week they come back with empty bags – they’ve used up all their screening materials, given away all their handouts.”


Conlin himself doesn’t just support NJPAC through his company’s Foundation. He’s also recently joined the Arts Center’s Board of Directors—and this Fall, he’ll be a co-chair of the Women’s Association of NJPAC’s annual Spotlight Gala, its annual fundraising event, on September 29.


“I’ve been to each one of the Galas since I’ve been back,” says Conlin, a Rutgers graduate whose long career in healthcare brought him all around the country before he landed back in New Jersey at Horizon’s Newark offices, right on the banks of the Passaic River in the city’s famed Ironbound neighborhood.  He served as Horizon’s executive vice president and chief operating officer until stepping into the CEO role last year when Robert Marino retired.


“It really is an honor for me to have been asked to serve on the NJPAC Board.  I see NJPAC as a leading organization and an anchor institution in Newark, and I believe Horizon shares those descriptions. We really try to be collaborative with and supportive of other organizations around Newark that share our goals, and the missions of our two organizations are very tightly aligned. I jumped at the chance, given the overlap of our focus,” he says.


One mission that both NJPAC and Horizon share, Conlin says, is serving as a “catalyst for ongoing, positive change” in the city of Newark.


“I’ve been in Newark for more than six years now, and the difference in Newark over that period is remarkable. Anywhere you look—downtown, in the Ironbound, up the hill around the colleges—there’s such activity. There are construction cranes all over, new residential buildings are going up, new businesses are opening. And these are not just corporate offices – there are coffee shops, retail stores popping up to serve the long-term residents and the newcomers alike.


“I’m really excited about One Theater Square, which is just one of the projects bringing new amenities into the downtown area.” (That building, the first luxury residential tower to be built in Newark in 60 years, sits on the Arts Center’s campus on Center Street.)


“What I’ve come to understand is that NJPAC was really the spark that got this all going. When you look back 20 or 30 years, you can really see the impact,” Conlin says.


Conlin has a great deal of work on his hands guiding Horizon though “an enormous amount of change” in the healthcare industry; he cites constantly evolving technology, soaring costs and the shift toward value-based care (that is, paying doctors for patients’ outcomes, rather than for individual procedures) as “vectors that are bouncing off against each other” throughout his field right now. But despite that workload, he says that he and Horizon remain committed to supporting NJPAC.


“What the Arts Center is doing is irreplaceable, for Newark and for New Jersey. I’m pleased to step in and offer some assistance and leadership. And I’m eager to see to it that the Gala is a successful evening, and a fun evening—and a profitable evening, too!”


Sept. 10, 2018