How lucky is our community? Philadelphia is enriched by scores of cultural institutions, artists, performers and exhibitions, from our Museum of Art to the Franklin Institute, FringeArts to the Constitution Center plus arboretums, gardens and historical homes. For many residents, from toddlers to octogenarians, cultural destinations connect us to each other. We are filled with local treasures! But can everyone participate? What if you have a cognitive difference? Or visual or hearing impairments? Would you have access to Philadelphia’s crown jewels?
For more than three decades Art-Reach, a 2016 recipient of a grant from Impact100 Philadelphia, has brought art to life for members of our community with disabilities. Art-Reach partners with over 200 agencies and more than 200 cultural institutions and artists to provide discounted tickets and special tours to children and adults throughout the entire year. Performances and exhibitions can inspire, uplift, entertain and include members of our community who otherwise would not have full access to everything the Philadelphia area has to offer. Some of the accommodations provided might be as straightforward as tour guides trained to use American Sign Language or audio devises for visually impaired guests. Professionally trained docents learn to offer information without “curating” exhibits: each visitor is able to experience art without interference through the use of technology, appropriate language, touch and smell.
Performance art can inspire and entertain, but may require thoughtful planning to address multiple challenges to accommodate the most inclusive audience possible. Every year Art-Reach supports sensory friendly performances of The Nutcracker, which are designed to create a welcoming environment for families with children who are on the autism spectrum, may have sensory sensitivities, and anyone who may benefit being in a more relaxed environment. Non-traditional events are also part of the Art-Reach portfolio. Last season they teamed with cabaret singer Martha Graham Cracker and FringeArts to create a radically accessible performance. Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWHsG8DaNto to learn about how ASL interpretation, CART captioning, audio description and mobility devices made this possible.
Since their Impact100 Philadelphia award, Art-Reach continues to push boundaries for their constituents. The film “I Am” follows the journey of six students from St. Katherine’s Special Education School and eight dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet’s Second Company to create a fully realized choreographed ballet piece.This initiative, which was funded by Impact100 Philadelphia, is part of Art-Reach’s ENCORE program, where people with disabilities engage with the arts in a participatory way. The ballet was performed live at Art-Reach’s Cultural Access Awards in May 2017. This project broke the mold as to how Art-Reach creates programming and has permanently changed the curriculum at St. Katherine’s to enhance art and dance opportunities. Click https://www.art-reach.org/what-we-do/i-am-documentary/ to watch a portion of the inaugural performance.
The next steps for Art-Reach reflect both the momentum of optimism and the recognition of the challenges some of our friends and neighbors face to completely participate in the arts community. Philadelphia is home to more than 270,000 people with disabilities, so additional paths are needed to increase access to music, dance, art, theater and special exhibitions. Art-Reach works hard to expand the definition of “underserved” to include victims of trauma, chronic illness and refugees and hopes to contribute to research analyzing the benefit of broad engagement in the arts. The Impact100 Philadelphia grant has allowed Art-Reach to expand their mission, leverage success, and imagine a city where universal access to the arts is automatic. Our 2016 funding recipient continues to work hard to make that vision reality. How lucky is our community to have the energy and talents of organizations like Art-Reach?