It is my great honor to take on the role of Executive Director of Michigan Arts Access. I believe the ultimate goal of my job is to make our organization unnecessary because I dream of the day when we no longer need to label people as disabled, but include all citizens in equitable opportunities to live, work and enjoy life in our beautiful state. To many it may seem like this vision has already been achieved, but the reality for many children, youth and adults with disabilities in Michigan is far from inclusive.
If you really think about it, we are all, or will someday be on the spectrum of what our society labels disabled – whether it be a visible disability, like my mother’s mobility issues due to chronic back problems, or the hidden disabilities – disabilities due to brain injury and mental illness we don’t like to talk about in this country.
We also have a long way to go in education to realize our vision. We have about 200,000 special education students in our state, and less than 10% of them receive any exposure to arts education, and without Michigan Arts Access it would only be around 1%. All students deserve a comprehensive arts education and we won’t rest until we reach 100%.
And there is tremendous untapped artistic talent within the disability community in Michigan that deserves to be nurtured. We are committed to helping artists with disabilities develop their talents and bring their gifts to market.
We have recently marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. ADA has brought us a long way, but we still have a very long way to go to fulfill the vision of a truly accessible society.
So, with these goals in mind, Michigan Arts Access will focus on 4 core areas:
- Arts Education
- Cultural Access
- Professional Development
- Professional Opportunity
Our programs and services address these areas in very specific ways:
- We will continue to grow our Artist in Residence program through our regional affiliates.
- We will expand the number of our Club Create chapters in communities around the state, and create an online marketplace where artists with disabilities can sell their work.
- We will continue to host festivals, which provide musicians with disabilities a venue for performance.
- We will expand our professional development offerings for teachers and teaching artists.
- And we will bring to light barriers to cultural access, and provide guidance to cultural institutions on how to be more inclusive and accessible.
I cannot do this alone. Our board, volunteers and our cadre of teaching artists provide a foundation, but if we are going to be successful in eliminating the need for the disability label, we need every Michigander to get involved. Politicians need to invest in the idea of inclusion. The media needs to bring the issues to light and highlight the positive changes that are being made. Corporations need to invest in programs in their communities, and individuals need to get involved. Everyone can help. It could be something as small as purchasing a set of gift cards for $10, or volunteering at one of our festivals. You can start a Club Create in your community, or become involved in one of our Regional Affiliates. Whatever you decide to do, you won’t be alone. We are creating an army of like-minded individuals across the state to support you as we fight for the right of every citizen to be included in the life Michigan has to offer, and advocate for the power of the arts to enrich our lives. I welcome you to join me in this important and rewarding work as we become a state where all citizens are able to participate in, learn through, excel in and enjoy the arts.