North Carolina attendants at 2023's LEAD Conference

Closer to the Mission of Arts for All

Author: Jamie Katz Court

In the summer of 2023, the North Carolina Arts Council awarded grants to ten arts organizations to attend the annual Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disabilities (LEAD) Conference and to be part of an arts accessibility learning community that would meet regularly to discuss accessibility in the arts. 

The accessibility cohort group included administrators and artists from Appalachian Theatre of the High Country (Boone), Cape Fear Regional Theatre (Fayetteville), Cucalorus (Wilmington), Eastern Music Festival (Greensboro), Greenville Museum of Art (Greenville), Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music (Boone), North Carolina Presenters Consortium (statewide), ShaLeigh Dance Works (Rougemont), The  Arts Council of Greater Greensboro (Greensboro), and Wilson Arts (Wilson). Their goals: learn what it means to make their arts programs and venues accessible, and share resources, strategies, challenges, and accomplishments with each other over the course of six months.

LEAD is a powerful conference coordinated by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and hosted in a different city each year, with the next conference taking place in Seattle, Washington from July 29 to August 2, 2024. The goal of the conference is to expand “the breadth and scope of accessible programming by enabling professionals in the field to develop best practices and resources, engage in conversations with colleagues and experts from around the world, and learn practical methods for designing inclusive arts experiences and environments”. (Source: Kennedy Center LEAD website.) 

In 2022, the conference was hosted right here in our own state capital of Raleigh, which sparked creation of the first statewide North Carolina arts accessibility learning community. Our learning community was also inspired by the work of the Office of Raleigh Arts, which has been facilitating an Arts Learning Community for Universal Access since 2015. 

As the N.C. Arts Council’s new Accessibility Coordinator, I had the privilege to facilitate the second year of our statewide arts accessibility learning community in 2023. Working with passionate arts leaders throughout our state is one of the best parts of my work, and seeing how the folks from this year’s participating organizations have embraced accessibility and started to integrate what they’ve learned into their work gives me hope that we will continue to move closer to the Arts Council’s vision of Arts for All in North Carolina.

Key takeaways and overarching goals of our learning community members over the last few months has ranged from the concrete to the philosophical:

Concrete action steps

  • Start small – consider “low-hanging fruit” first and don’t try to do everything at once. 
  • Use accessibility best practices for websites and social media posts. For example, include Know Before You Go guides that are helpful for folks on the Autism spectrum, and try to reduce the amount of text and hyperlink information to make website and online information more accessible for anyone with blindness or low vision.
  • Set up walkthroughs with folks from the accessibility community at events to learn ways to improve guest and artist experiences.
  • If you have a rental venue, provide a list of service providers/resources for accessibility in rental contracts.
  • Endeavor to collaborate with a Deaf/low hearing ASL translator rather than a non-disabled ASL translator.
  • Budgets are always tight, so if you’re working with other community groups, see if you can come together and purchase equipment to be shared, like an open captioning board. 
  • Before you begin planning any event, think about how to effectively and organically build accessibility into all programs, events, and activities. Consider physical accessibility as well as sensorial and tactile ways to augment experiences for visitors.

More philosophical things to consider

  • Think of disability as a cultural identity – how many other cultural identities would you be okay with excluding? 
  • It is a privilege for non-disabled persons not to consider the access needs of disabled persons. 
  • Sensory-friendly or relaxed experiences are built on choice, self-determination, and belonging.

And if you ever have questions about accessibility as it applies to your programs, venue, or organization, please reach out – I’d be happy to talk with you and share resources to help you continue on your own accessibility journey!

Jamie Katz Court
Music & Dance Director, Accessibility Coordinator
(919) 814-6502

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