The Fourth Annual Cultural Access Network Awards Set for 6/7

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On June 7th, at the fourth annual Cultural Access Network Awards, three organizations and one individual will be honored for their leadership, innovation and commitment to increasing access to the arts for people with disabilities. The Awards are offered annually by the Cultural Access Network Project, cosponsored by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State; for the third year in a row, the event will be held at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.

“The State Arts Council believes that accessibility to the arts is a fundamental right for all people,” said Nicholas Paleologos, Executive Director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. “We work to ensure that access in many different ways, including setting high standards for access in our grant making programs, and through our longtime partnership with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance’s Cultural Access Network Project."

The event is sponsored by Springpoint Senior Living, New Jersey’s leading provider of senior housing and care. Attended by leaders in the state’s arts and cultural community, the Cultural Access Network Awards is a day long event that begins with a networking breakfast and is followed by “Meet the Mentors” discussion groups to support the efforts of cultural institutions in making their programming accessible for everyone. Mentor groups include: Programs and Services for Patrons with Disabilities, Marketing to People with Disabilities and ADA Planning support.

The celebratory event will also include a performance by Matthew Whitaker, a musician and resident of Hackensack, NJ. Born in 2001, three months premature and blind, Whitaker attends the Harlem School of the Arts where he studies jazz for the piano. Matthew has also attended jazz piano workshops taught by legendary pianist Barry Harris.

Awards will be presented to individuals and organizations nominated by individuals in the community, and evaluated by a panel of independent judges. Each organization receives a cash award to be used to support and further their innovative access and outreach programming.

“Since the Cultural Access Network Project was founded, my colleagues and I have been so inspired by the great strides the members of New Jersey’s cultural community have made in this area,” said John McEwen, Executive Director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the Founder and Chairman of the Cultural Access Network Project. “The honorees at this year’s Cultural Access Network Awards have each operated with the belief that their offerings should reach the greatest number of people regardless of disability, economic constraints, or geographic limitations, and they are all doing such great work. We hope they inspire other organizations to develop creative programs and partnerships that will provide more opportunities for all of the state’s residents to enjoy its cultural treasures.”

McCarter Theatre Center of Princeton will receive this year’s Sustainer Award for their ongoing commitment to cultural access. The theatre is committed to making its programs accessible to everyone. In 1989, McCarter began offering Audio Description, the description of live theatre for patrons who are either blind or visually impaired. Patrons are also encouraged to attend pre-show Sensory Seminars, which give them information about the set and lighting, and a tactile tour of costumes and props. Skilled sign interpreters offer ASL (American Sign Language) during one performance at each production. McCarter’s open-captioned performances have allowed people with hearing loss to enjoy productions in a new way. They fully embody their tag line: "You Belong Here

Two Innovator Awards will be presented. One will be given to the Bergen County “Access for All” Campaign. The Bergen County Division on Disability Services encourages municipalities to establish local “Access for All” committees to address various topics of interest to its citizens regarding disability/access related issues. The “Access for All” committees – comprised of town residents with disabilities, their families, caregivers and officials – meet on to work collaboratively with the Mayor and Council to examine issues affecting residents with disabilities and exploring solutions. As a part of the county’s commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities, they believe that access to arts venues and performances/events are paramount to the community, helping to ensure accessibility to museums, theatres, cultural and historic events and town celebrations.

Also receiving an Innovator Award will be the City Without Walls Mural Project (Newark). Founded in 1975, City Without Walls (cWOW) is an urban gallery of emerging art that advances the careers of artists while building the audience for contemporary art. The Mural Project is an outgrowth of cWOW’s four-year old Newark-based City Murals program. Last year, with support from the Kessler Foundation, cWOW embarked on a unique community-based program for at-risk Newark teenagers with physical disabilities that integrates public art with youth employment and training. Facilitated by a master artist-mentor and arts therapist – Laura Salley, who teaches at JFK School – students at the JFK High School (which has a primary focus to serve the disabled) produced a large-scale mural and installed it a highly visible public space.

The Leadership Award is being given to Anna Aschkenes of the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission. Under her leadership, the Commission has restored 15 buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries and brought them into public use. One was slated for demolition and a parking lot to be constructed in its place; today it is an arts center. The Cornelius Low House survived the Revolutionary War, is fully restored today, and serves as the award-winning Middlesex County Museum. East Jersey Olde Towne Village is comprised of 13 structures including a church, schoolhouse, wheelwright, farm house, manor home, and the Indian Queen Tavern, and is open to the public six days a week. Aschkenes’ leadership has inspired the Commission to make all of its programs and sites accessible to people with disabilities. Both the Cornelius Low House (first floor), and all buildings at the East Jersey Olde Towne Village are barrier free. The second floor of the Low House/Museum has been videotaped, and is shown with open captions on the first floor, to accommodate visitors to the site who may have mobility restrictions. Personally, Aschkenes has also authored several books, the most recent entitled Middlesex County – Crossroads of History.

The Cultural Access Network Awards are an annual event offered by the Cultural Access Network Project, which is a co-sponsored project of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Since its inception in 1994, CAN has provided service to the state’s cultural community to assist them as they make their facilities and programs more accessible to people with disabilities. Training sessions, workshops, and conferences align with information and tools available on the Project’s comprehensive website www.culturalaccessnetwork.org. The innovative programs and services of the Cultural Access Network Project have earned national recognition and framed New Jersey as a model among their peers in the cultural access field.

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