Cultural Accessibility Awards Announced 6/22

Cultural Accessibility Awards Announced 6/22On Thursday, June 22nd, from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., the Cultural Access Network Project (CAN), a program of New Jersey Theatre Alliance and New Jersey State Council on the Arts, will host the ninth annual Excellence in Cultural Access Awards at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ. Attended by leaders in the state's arts and cultural community, the event will feature a keynote address by Valerie Fletcher, executive director of the Institute of Human Centered Design, educational roundtables, pop-up galleries with artwork by artists with disabilities, entertainment by Premiere Stages of Kean University, and a reception.

"We are excited to be co-hosting the ninth annual Excellence in Cultural Access Awards," said Nicholas Paleologos, Executive Director of New Jersey State Council on the Arts. "This year is doubly special because we will not only be honoring some of the state's top access achievers, but we will also celebrate the 25th anniversary of our collaboration with New Jersey Theatre Alliance in the Cultural Access Network Project. We've made tremendous strides in enabling people with disabilities to enjoy and participate in the arts, and look forward to celebrating those achievements."

The following organizations and individuals will be honored:

The Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, an art, history, and science "Museum of Ideas," will receive an Innovator Award for its commitment to access. The Monmouth Museum offers an open door and flexible accessibility policy, recognizing that individuals with special needs and their families have the right to quality arts and educational experiences, and the Museum has a responsibility and privilege to give them the best cultural experience possible when they visit. Some accessibility features include customized tours, free admission for paraprofessionals and support personnel, after-hours Sensory Aware Nights for individuals with autism and their families, Please Touch art exhibitions for visitors with vision loss, height-sensitive installments, large-print programs, audio/visual interpretive tags that work with a visitor's smartphone, complementary wheelchairs, sensitivity training for staff and docents, and a program for volunteers who have autism.

In nominating the Monmouth Museum for the Innovator Award, Donny Palmer, assistant supervisor at The ARC of Ocean County, a service and advocacy organization for people with disabilities, recounted a recent trip: "It is no easy feat to engage 23 participants of varying developmental disabilities, but the Monmouth Museum did so with flying colors. We learned so many things about the beautiful art and our hundreds of questions were answered graciously. All of our participants left happy and a few have asked me if they could come back."

Nimbus Dance Works of Jersey City will receive an Innovator Award for its effort in advancing inclusive dance experiences for elementary-school students in Jersey City. Through their in-school Dance to Learn program for students in grades two through four, Nimbus has developed ways to ensure that students of all abilities work together to explore the elements of dance, co-create dances, and perform their work for their families and the school community. As a non-verbal art form, dance draws on the signature movement strengths of all participants, thereby embracing the creative capacities of all children regardless of ability.

Mr. John J. Rivero, principal of Dr. Michael Conte-PS 5 in Jersey City, said the Nimbus Dance Works' Dance to Learn teaching artists have "allowed the students to flourish both academically and socially. We see the students bonding and developing a level of comfort expressing themselves. This is exhibited in the classroom and socially."

Michael Schnoering, FAIA, partner at Mills + Schnoering Architects LLC of Princeton, will receive the Championship Award for his work in designing accessible arts and cultural spaces throughout New Jersey. Mills + Schnoering is a full service architectural firm focused on cultural buildings of all types, including theaters and museums, public buildings, campus planning and design, and the preservation and rehabilitation of historic structures. Schnoering has been a member of the CAN Advisory Committee for 15 years. He has conducted many workshops for the state's cultural community in the areas of facility access and universal design, and he consults to a wide range range of cultural organizations throughout the country in the area of physical accessibility. Schnoering is on the Board of the League of Historic American Theatres.

"Michael has been a significant asset to the Cultural Access Network Project in educating our field on new and innovative approaches to universal design," said John McEwen, Executive Director of New Jersey Theatre Alliance. "His firm has been extremely generous to the Alliance and the work of CAN initiative, and we are thrilled to recognize him with the Championship Award."

Premiere Stages, a professional Equity theatre in residence at Kean University in Union, will receive a Leadership Award for its consistent work with actors, playwrights, directors, and other theatre artists with disabilities. Under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director John Wooten, Premiere Stages partners with the Arts Access program at Matheny Medical and Educational Center of Peapack to help their theatres artists, some with severe disabilities, see their work come to life on stage. Premiere Stages makes a conscious effort to help playwrights develop plays with the message of inclusion at their core.

"This professional and outstanding theatre company is deeply dedicated to true inclusion in the arts," said Eileen Murray, director of the Arts Access program at Matheny. "They are fully committed to accessibility, but even more importantly, they embody it. John Wooten and his team of talented theatre professionals worked side-by-side with the Arts Access dramatists to present their original plays and scripts. They did so with respect, compassion, and shared laughter. Our artists reveled in the camaraderie that emerged, and embraced the opportunity to be part of a professional theatre community."

Premiere Stages is currently working with New Jersey playwright Nicole Pandolfo on a commissioned play, Brick City, which is about two high-school seniors in Newark-one an artist who uses a wheelchair, the other the star of the basketball team who has a learning disability-who help each other make tough decisions about their futures. Guests at the awards ceremony will be treated to a sneak peek of this play, which will premiere in October.

Since its inception in 1992, CAN has facilitated accessibility among the state's cultural community through training, workshops, a comprehensive online resource bank, an online theatre performance directory searchable by access services, and a tool that streamlines cultural organizations' ADA planning and reporting. CAN's innovative programs and services have earned national recognition and have framed New Jersey as a model state in the cultural access field.

The Cultural Access Network Awards are made possible in part by the support of Johnson & Johnson. In addition to support from New Jersey State Council on the Arts, for the past 25 years New Jersey Theatre Alliance's access initiatives have received support from Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Fund for New Jersey Blind, Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, The Karma Foundation, Kessler Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Springpoint Senior Living Foundation, and the Wallerstein Foundation for Geriatric Life Improvement.

About New Jersey Theatre Alliance

New Jersey Theatre Alliance unites, promotes, strengthens, and cultivates New Jersey's professional theatres. It advances the theatre community by developing innovative, collaborative, and engaging programs and services for member theatres and their diverse audiences. It also produces public programs such as the annual Stages Festival and NJArtsTix, an online discount ticket service. Its member theatres are both large and small with a wide variety of repertoires, each a fully functioning business that pays its staff and artists (designers, technicians, directors, and actors). Through their programming, these theatres inspire, challenge, and entertain about one million theatre-goers annually, and enrich communities through outreach programs and arts education. For more information, visit njtheatrealliance.org.

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