Tuesday, August 21, 2018
In early August, I had the pleasure to attend two back-to-back VSA and Kennedy Center conferences in steamy, downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The first conference, Intersections, concerned itself with topics focused on arts and special education, and was attended by educators and teaching artists from across the country. And we could not have asked for a better place to reflect on what Jenna Gabriel, conference organizer, asked us to consider; “the ways in which equitable access to high-quality arts learning for students with disabilities is indeed an issue of civil rights.” As I moved from session to session, and engaged in conversations with my colleagues, I was reminded time and again of how the smallest accommodation can still have a significant impact.
Spoken-word poet and advocate LeDerick Horne, set the tone for the two-day convening by sharing the story of his educational journey, and the teachers who recognized his gift and supported him along the way. Then, Sloan McLain and I were able to introduce over 45 interested administrators and teaching artists to the creative tenets that underscore and comprise the teaching strategies employed by Austin Independent School District and developed by MINDPOP.
It was a lively two days, and there is much more that can be said about the enriching conversations that were sparked, but I just advise you to mark your calendars to attend one of the several Intersection gatherings that are scheduled for 2018 and 2019. Find out the latest information about VSA's Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference on the Kennedy Center's website.
Then, it was onward to the LEAD Conference (Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability). Did I say that the conferences were held at the Atlanta Marquis Hotel, an architectural wonder all of its own? We were scattered across 46 floors, with a dizzying bank of elevators to get us to our respective rooms. I was tucked back in a corner on the 21st floor (which turned out to be a blessing when the Insight Global annual sales conference attendees arrived on Friday night)!
Access = Aesthetic is comprised of five elements: Limited Access to Verbal Description for Dance; Limits of Verbal Description; Access is Art; Art is Accessible; and, Access Creates Community.
This conference brings together accessibility managers from the performing arts and museums from across the US and around the world to talk about, advocate for, and just make access happen! Our Call to Action was delivered by Mickey Rowe, the first autistic actor to play Christopher Boone in the Tony Award-winning play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” From there, we were off and rolling and there were sessions for everyone, whether a novice or a seasoned pro. I was especially interested in the conversations addressing disability artistry as a catalyst for community engagement, and the influence of scents and memory to enhance the experience of museum goers. I am still savoring the Access Equals Aesthetic conversation with dance pioneer Alice Sheppard about making dance more accessible to audience members who are blind through enhanced audio description experiences. Again, there is too much to report, so plan to come to Denver in 2019 and add your name to the thousands of accessibility assets working tirelessly to ensure all people can participate in, learn through, and enjoy the arts.
Mel Finefrock sits and reads her poetry in front of the wooden wall at Malvern Books.
All in all, it was time well spent. And then, when I arrived back in Austin, I attended our Lion and Pirate Open Mic to hear Mel Finefrock read her poetry and I was reminded again why I do this work. Why we do this work. Why the world will never tire of us doing this work.