New Jersey State Council on the Arts (NJSCA) and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance (“The Alliance”), two of the state’s largest arts service organizations, congratulated the 2021 Cultural Access Awards recipients with a virtual event of learning and celebration on Thursday, June 24.
“We gathered from many locations to celebrate the outstanding organizations and individuals who are doing such incredible work in accessibility and breaking down barriers, so that patrons, artists and management can fully participate in arts and culture”, says John McEwen, Executive Director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.
The recipients are part of the Cultural Access Network Project (CAN), which was formed nearly 30 years ago, and provide a wide range of services and programs to assist theatres and cultural organizations in making their programs and facilities accessible to seniors and people with disabilities. The program is guided by a volunteer steering committee representing arts patrons, state and county officials, arts administrators, and managers from organizations serving people with disabilities.
Recipients are awarded based on their work in accessibility and offering equality and opportunity for all individuals with disabilities.
Awards recipients include: CHAMPION AWARD - James (Jim) Thebery, M.A., CSW, Former Director, Bergen County, Division of Disability Services
“It was an honor to receive the Champion Award and I thank all who voted for me. Even though I retired last year, I intend to keep the fight going for inclusion and access and intend to remain active in the community”, says Jim Thebery, M.A., CSW, Former Director, Bergen County Division of Disability Services.
LEADERSHIP AWARD - Art House Productions
“Art House is honored and grateful to receive the 2021 Leadership Award in Cultural Access. As a small organization, we strategize closely with our Access Committee (led by Rachel Handler) to ensure our programs are accessible and welcoming for all. This award will help us continue creating spaces for the arts that are free from barriers for artists and patrons with disabilities. We're proud to be part of the New Jersey Theater Alliance for many reasons, but specifically for their advocacy in arts access. They've helped make New Jersey the only state in the country where arts funding is tied to an access plan and we celebrate producing work in a state that is leading in this area”, says Meredith Burns, Executive Director of Art House Productions.
INNOVATOR AWARD - Matheny Arts Access Program
“The past year (and some change) was a trying, sometimes overwhelming, but ultimately rewarding time for the Arts Access Program. We are so delighted and honored that the Cultural Access Network has recognized our resilience and perseverance with the 2021 Innovator Award, as we completely pivoted our in-person programming to 100% virtual to not only protect our most vulnerable population but to provide an outlet of creativity and prosperity. While the Zoom platform presented its own set of challenges, it allowed us to connect and create with our artists and gave us the ability to welcome more artists into our Arts family because transportation hurdles were no longer present. Our team of outstanding arts professionals/ facilitators found small blessings during a time when the country was scared and in mourning. Thanks again to CAN and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance for highlighting Arts Access and its amazing, resilient artists”, said Heather Williams, Performing Arts and Outreach Coordinator, Arts Access Program.
An opening keynote and panel discussion: Social Change and Disability Justice in the Arts, took place during the event. Disability Justice at its core recognizes how disabled people are whole human beings that meet many intersectionalities. All bodies, all people have strengths and access needs that must be met. The session explored the framing of disability rights and disability justice. It discussed why disability justice is essential in the equity and inclusion work and policies of arts organizations.
The keynote and panel moderator was Sofiya Cheyenne, Teaching Artist, Performer and Disability Advocate, and Committee Chair of the Dwarf Artist Coalition of Little People of America.
The panel included: Jerron Herman, Vice-Chair, Board of Trustees at Dance/USA, Monique Holt, Assistant Professor, Theatre & Dance Program at Gallaudet University, and Marilee Talkington, Founder and Executive Director of Access Acting Academy.
Panelist Jerron Herman also captivated the audience with a dance performance, Phys Ed (2016).
Founded in 1981, New Jersey Theatre Alliance was the first statewide service organization for professional, not-for-profit theatre companies in the United States, and is a leader in developing model programs that unite, promote, strengthen, and cultivate professional theatre in New Jersey. Funding for the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, a not-for-profit organization, is provided in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, and contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations including Amazon, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Grunin Foundation, The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, Bank of America, City National Bank, The Shubert Foundation, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, Investors Bank, The Hyde and Watson Foundation, Kessler Foundation, The F.M. Kirby Foundation, E.J. Grassmann Trust, and The Union Foundation.
In 1966, the legislature passed and the governor signed a law creating the NJ State Council of the Arts and directing us to do all that is necessary and appropriate to: support, encourage, and foster public interest in the arts; enlarge public and private resources devoted to the arts; promote freedom of expression in the arts; promote freedom of expressions in the arts; and facilitate the inclusion of art in every public building in New Jersey.