LEAD Scholarship Grants

Accessibility in the Arts in Practice

Author: North Carolina Arts Council

For the third year, the N.C. Arts Council is inviting arts administrators to apply for our LEAD Scholarship Grant (due May 1, 2024). The grant provides professional development to those working in the field of accessibility in the arts. Recipients will attend the 2024 Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) in Seattle, Washington, and participate in a year-long cohort where they will engage in conversations with colleagues and experts from around the world; learn practical methods for designing inclusive arts experiences and environments; and develop best practices and resources.

Previous grant recipients from Cucalorus Film Festival and Wilson Arts are doing important work to implement and expand accessibility services, most notably in the area of audience experience.

The Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington was founded in 1994 to celebrate independent and international film. It has grown into one of the most important film festivals in the South. Dan Brawley, Chief Instigating Officer at Cucalorus, received a LEAD scholarship in 2022. Since then, he has worked with the organization on several accessibility projects, ranging from audience experience projects to a regional workshop passing along the knowledge he has gained from participating in the accessibility cohort.

"I think as much as anything, for me personally, one of the most important things that has grown from my LEAD experience is a heightened awareness of our role in creating accessible experiences - that has really helped keep this front and center as a priority for Cucalorus," said Dan. 

Cucalorus has invested in hiring an Accessibility Coordinator and made sure to involve local artists to advise their internal work, as well as lead educational sessions for other organizations.

"The feeling here is really positive and we're looking forward to expanding our ability to create cultural events that are more accessible and equitable in Southeastern N.C."

Cathy Hardison, Executive Director of Wilson Arts received a LEAD scholarship grant in 2022 and 2023. Wilson Arts, formerly known as the Arts Council of Wilson, has an over fifty-year history as a local arts agency. Their mission, to improve the quality of life for all citizens of Wilson County by providing cultural leadership and opportunities in the arts, inspired Cathy to apply for the scholarship grant.

"The first time I attended LEAD, it exposed me to a wide variety of tools and awareness of different disabilities and the possibilities to make the arts more accessible to everyone," said Cathy. "The second time I went to LEAD, I had more idea of what I was looking for to make bite-sized improvements within our organization."

Those improvements have included: improving their assisted listening devices, adding a wheelchair for patrons to use while visiting their expansive gallery, raising funds to install automatic doors, and creating "sensory backpacks" that can be checked out during performances, events, and classes. They have also expanded the accessibility focus to organizations renting their space, by including accessibility information in rental contracts and guidelines.

"The scholarship really got me thinking about accessibility and incorporating it into the planning for everything that we do...this seed planted by the North Carolina Arts Council and LEAD has carried to the other organizations I serve with and committees I serve on."

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