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Accessibility in the Arts 2020 Recap

What a year it’s been! Despite all of the challenges and setbacks that this year has brought, the WNY arts and cultural community has managed to maintain or even improve upon our efforts of increasing accessibility, diversity, inclusion, and equity.  Back in January, we took some time to reflect on the previous year and noticed a trend in questions about what it means to promote a culture of diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility in the nonprofit sector and beyond. That is why we decided to dedicate 2020 to igniting conversations on these topics and how they come into play within Western New York arts and culture.

In addition to highlighting organizations that are successfully doing this work, we also dedicated our Creative Professionals Exchange (CPX2020) in November to this topic as a platform to navigate and foster these complex and sensitive discussions with industry leaders. All of this has built on our work with the Arts Access program, which aims to break the barriers of inaccessibility to the region’s arts and culture sector that often include money, transportation, and knowledge of events.

While we recognize that many organizations and individuals across our region are doing great work to become more accessible and inclusive of our entire community, we were only able to highlight a handful of the great work being done. While we reflect on the topics and work we would like to highlight in 2021, you can revisit our features from 2020 and consider how you can be more inclusive, accessible, and equitable in your work as well.

Below is a recap of our “Accessibility in the Arts” spotlights from 2020!

Anything Can Be a Dance Move: Q&A with danceability’s Robin Bishop

“We have always focused on bringing quality dance education to the special needs community in ways that will help them improve the quality of their life outside of dance.” -Robin Bishop

Danceability is an individualized dance, fitness, and movement program based in Depew that serves the region’s special needs community. Robin Bishop, Co-founder and Executive Director of danceability, spoke with us about the impact dance has had on her life which brought her to serving the special needs community through dance…read more


Art Means Nothing if There Are Barriers: Q&A with Squeaky Wheel’s Kevin Kline

“We aim to create a safe and creative space for students to experience various digital technologies and ideas to not only broaden their potential future paths but also to provide them with more ways to express themselves and communicate their perspective.” -Kevin Kline

Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center’s mission is to continue a legacy of innovation in media arts through access, education, and exhibition. Squeaky Wheel’s education staff spoke with us about their new program, Digital Arts and Technology Access (DATA). DATA provides media arts programming which focuses on the needs of young makers with autism spectrum disorder…read more 


One Experience Can Change a Family’s Life: Q&A with Jana Mertz, Program Coordinator of the Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center

“One resource, piece of information, experience, or introduction can change a family’s life.” -Jana Metz

The Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at Oishei Children’s Hospital has been providing families with autism spectrum disorders support, diagnosis, multidisciplinary evaluation, and care. Jana Metz, Program Coordinator of the Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center, spoke with us about their collaborations with entities such as Theatre of Youth, the Aquarium of Niagara, and other places in the WNY area to develop inclusive, sensory- friendly, affordable programs for families to experience culture and create art in a comfortable and supportive environment…read more


Making Magic: Q&A with Inclusive Theater Founder Aimee M. Levesque, PhD

“In creating these opportunities, it was my hope that we would learn not only about our differences and how special they make us, but also about the things that tie us together.” -Aimee M. Levesque, PhD

Inclusive Theater of WNY, a performing and visual arts company which promotes inclusion, diversity, and respect in the arts by welcoming people of all levels of experience and ability to participate in its productions. Aimee M. Levesque, PhD, founder, executive, and artistic director of Inclusive Theater of WNY, spoke with us about the need to integrate actors with disabilities and disparities into the acting community, the moment she witnessed the impact and magic of theater at an event, and how their organization has adapted their shows in response to COVID-19…read more


An Extra Effort: Q&A with Locust Street Art Executive Director Rachelyn Noworyta

“At LSA, we do so much more for our community than simply provide free art instruction— we offer youth mentoring and development with our teen assistants, we provide wellness services, and we are always available if anyone needs to talk.” -Rachelyn Noworyta

Locust Street Art (LSA) is a nonprofit arts organization that provides low-cost specialized workshops, free studio art classes, and custom services for both children and adults. LSA offers  free art education programs in painting, drawing, ceramics, photography, and studio animation. Rachelyn Noworyta, Executive Director at Locust Street Art, spoke with us about how Locust Street Art came to be, what’s next for them, and words of advice for fellow art administrators about navigating their organization during this difficult time…read more


Diverse Voices: Q&A with Torn Space Theater’s Dan Shanahan 

“We started to learn how to work with installation artists and designers and fold that into production design, we began to understand how to develop an experience for an audience to walk into and we began to understand that performance is a ritual.” -Dan Shanahan 

Torn Space Theater aims to create original, aesthetically innovative performances, and to introduce internationally-renowned, contemporary performance to Western New York and the Buffalo-Niagara Region. Dan Shannan, Artistic Director and Founder of Torn Space, spoke with us about the background of Torn Space, the performance installation at the Central Terminal that marked as a turning point for the company, and how the theater has been able to reach diverse and inclusive audiences with their audio performance titled Passage during this unprecedented time…read more


Increasing Racial Diversity in Orchestra: Q&A with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

“That exposure—the way that the orchestra was able to touch thousands of new hearts that day while celebrating such an important part of Buffalo’s history and culture—was worth every blister on my feet at the end of the night!” -Patrick O’Herron 

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) provides artistic excellence and integrity to enrich the quality of life in Western New York through the presentation of live symphonic music and other musical events which educate and entertain the broadest possible audiences within and beyond the Western New York region. Patrick O’Herron, Director of Marketing at BPO, spoke with us about the history of the philharmonic, a “victory” moment at the East Side Festival where he saw a direct impact of the orchestra in the community, as well as talks about the BPO’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusionread more


“Au-some” Aquarium: Q&A with the Aquarium of Niagara

“As an Aquarium, we’re constantly thinking about ways that we can become more accessible to visitors of all skills and abilities, whether it’s by revamping the path to our accessible entrance or creating soft spaces for families to gather and regroup.” -Gary Siddal

The Aquarium of Niagara in Niagara Falls, NY strives to celebrate our natural wonders and inspire people to make a difference for aquatic life through passion, transparency, empathy, diversity, and collaboration. Gary Siddal, Executive Director of the Aquarium of Niagara, spoke with us about their initiative called the “Au-some Aquarium” in partnership with a representative from the Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder. This after-hours experience at the aquarium provides a unique sense of serenity and peace to children with special sensory needs…read more


Creative COVID Captioning: Q&A with the Irish Classical Theatre Company

“By providing these services, the Perry Memorial Fund, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and ICTC will be offering a richer quality of life for those in the WNY community identifying as Deaf or Hard of Hearing (HOH), increasing awareness among local theatres of the importance of accommodation, and expanding ICTC’s audience reach.” -Kate LoConti

The Irish Classical Theatre Company presents Irish plays, both traditional and contemporary, international classics and modern plays of exceptional merit and high artistic quality. Kate LoConti Alcocer, Executive Artistic Director of the Irish Classical Theatre Company, spoke with us about their first digital production in collaboration with Pan-American Film Division of Sea Marks which ran from October 16th-November 1st. This production was the first to offer both ASL and OC captions in the Western New York region in partnership with Deaf Access Services, an affiliate of People Inc…read more


Weaving Together A Vibrant Community: Q&A with Stitch Buffalo 

With open hearts, a commitment to environmental sustainability, and a love of inclusive education, we are weaving together a vibrant community within Western New York.” -Dawne Hoeg

Stitch Buffalo advances social justice for refugee women in Buffalo, NY by creating opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and economic empowerment through textile arts. Dawne Hoeg, Director of Stitch Buffalo, spoke with us about the steps their organization has taken to make everyone feel welcomed despite language and cultural barriers as well as their art installation “Peace 2020” at Burchfield Penney Art Center in January of this year. Since COVID-19, Stitch Buffalo has pivoted their drop-in visits to adding a mask sewing program to do at home and an Etsy shop…read more


Additional Resources: 

Arts Access
Arts Services Inc.’s Arts Access program aims to break the barriers of inaccessibility to the region’s arts and culture sector. These barriers often include money, transportation, and knowledge of events. We partner with local theaters, galleries, and other arts and culture organizations to offer free or reduced-cost opportunities to Western New York residents and their families that receive income-based public assistance. ASI envisions a region where anyone can engage with the arts.

Arts Partners for Learning
Arts Partners for Learning provides access to arts education for children in the eight counties of Western New York and improves the capacity of cultural organizations in these counties to provide quality creative learning programs.   

Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library (B&ECPL) consists of a Central Library, 8 branches in the City of Buffalo and 22 contract member libraries which operate 28 facilities outside the City of Buffalo. The libraries serve as centers of information, education, culture and entertainment for the residents of Erie County.

Cultural Alliance of Niagara (CAN)
Cultural Alliance of Niagara is a member-powered collaborative that positions Niagara County’s flourishing arts and cultural sector as a vital regional asset and visitor destination, essential to the region’s economic success and quality of life.

Just Buffalo Literary Center
Just Buffalo Literary Center’s mission is to create and strengthen communities through the literary arts. Throughout the month of December,  the Just Buffalo Writing Center will be offering free virtual Youth Writing Workshops on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 pm- 6:30 pm. These workshops are geared towards writers aged 12-18. Some of the workshops they will be offering are Digital Publishing, Anxiety Cartooning, College Essay Virtual Office Hours, and more. To register you can email Writing Center Coordinator, Robin Jordan at

Niagara Falls Public Library
The Niagara Falls Public Library strives to strengthen the community through lifelong learning with access to varied collections, ​programs, and assistance with digital literacy.

Theatre Alliance of Buffalo
The Theatre Alliance of Buffalo (TAB) is a consortium of Western New York professional theatre companies dedicated to promoting the welfare of its member organizations and appreciation of the art of theatre. Their goals include: to strengthen and enhance marketing efforts; develop and invigorate communication and coordination among its members; provide opportunities to stabilize and strengthen TAB members as a cultural and regional asset.

Tri-County Arts Council
The Tri-County Arts Council advocates the creation and appreciation of arts and culture in the region through classes, events, funding opportunities, and more.

WNY Choral Consortium
The WNY Choral Consortium is a collection of choral ensembles throughout the Western New York region and a place to share upcoming events and auditions.

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