New Jersey Stage

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Fifth Annual Cultural Access Network Awards Arts Leaders Honored for their Contributions


(West Orange, NJ) -- On June 21st, at the fifth annual Cultural Access Network Awards, four organizations and one individual were honored for their leadership, innovation and commitment to increasing access to the arts for people with disabilities.  Attended by over 100 community leaders and artists, the Awards are offered annually by the Cultural Access Network Project, (CAN) cosponsored by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State; for the fourth year in a row, the event was held at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.

"The State Arts Council believes that access to the arts is a fundamental right," said Nicholas Paleologos, Executive Director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. "The Council is dedicated to helping New Jersey's arts industry meet and exceed the requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act and to bring the arts to everyone through innovative, barrier free events and facilities. The arts open up a world of opportunities, providing an outlet for creative expression and unlimited possibilities for personal, academic and professional success for all people."

Attended by leaders in the state's arts and cultural community, the Cultural Access Network Awards was a day long event that began with a networking breakfast and was followed by "Open Space: You Create the Agenda" group sessions to support the efforts of cultural institutions in making their programming accessible for everyone. This year, members of the Alliance for Arts and Health NJ were also a part of the group discussions.

The celebratory event also featured two short films from ReelAbilities, a Disabilities Film Festival dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities.  ReelAbilities was also recognized with an Award of Appreciation for bringing the Disabilities Film Festival to New Jersey.

Awards were presented to individuals and organizations nominated by community members, and evaluated by a panel of independent judges.  Each organization received a cash award to be used to support and further their innovative access and outreach programming.

"Since the Cultural Access Network Project was founded, my colleagues and I have been so impressed by the great strides the members of New Jersey's cultural community have made in this area," said John McEwen, Executive Director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the Founder and Chairman of the Cultural Access Network Project.  "The honorees at this year's Cultural Access Network Awards have each operated with the belief that their offerings should reach the greatest number of people regardless of ability, economic constraints, or geographic limitations, and they are all doing such meaningful work. We hope they inspire other organizations to develop creative programs and partnerships that will provide more opportunities for all of the state's residents to enjoy its cultural treasures."

The Newark Museum received this year's Sustainer Award for their ongoing commitment to cultural access.  Since its start in 1909, the Museum has demonstrated innovation and creativity in the design of its facilities and in the implementation of a wide range of offerings that address arts access for museum visitors and members of the community, including both children and adults with special needs, disabilities and impairments. Some specific programs include Community Access Tours, Camp Newark Museum, the "new" Billy Johnson Auditorium, Victoria Hall of Science and Exhibitions Serving Families and Mayfest.

Two Innovator Awards were also presented. One was given to JCC Metro West of West Orange for renovation of their Maurice Levin Theater. JCC Metro West renovated its Maurice Levin Theatre beyond the ADA requirements the site already fulfilled to better accommodate the increased number of seniors with special needs who were attending their events.  The final project attained the goals of the JCC with a total of 14 wheelchair spaces with companion seating, 42 seating positions for audience members with walkers, a new egress door at the mid-point of the auditorium and new lighting in aisles and egress pathways.

Also receiving an Innovator Award was "The Lend Your Voice Project" – a unique cultural collaboration between student volunteers from the Paper Mill Playhouse Theatre School in Millburn and students from Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey's Horizon School in Livingston. The Playhouse students provide voice-overs for non-verbal student actors in Horizon School plays, resulting in children with profound disabilities being able to express their creativity and enjoy the thrill of performing while extending a transformative life experience to Paper Mill Theatre School students.

The Leadership Award was given to Ina White of Springfield for her tireless efforts in supporting and guiding many cultural organizations in their access policies and programs. As Community Outreach Coordinator at Kean University, Ms. White provides information and referral services on issues of importance to people with disabilities such as legislation, transportation, recreation, and barrier-free design.  She also provides technical assistance to agencies and organizations serving persons with disabilities through active participation on a variety of boards and committees, including the New Jersey Transit ADA Task Force, the Cultural Access Network, the Advisory Council to the Assistive Technology Advocacy Center of Disability Rights New Jersey, Inc., and the Board of Trustees of New Jersey CART (Coalition for the Advancement of Rehabilitation Technology).

In 1992, Ina was one of 400 persons with disabilities from around the country selected as part of the ADA Implementation Network to receive extensive training in the Americans with Disabilities Act by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), a project sponsored by the Equal Employment Opportunity and the U.S. Department of Justice.

She has been an adjunct instructor at Kean University and New Jersey Institute of Technology, and has mentored numerous Special Education, Psychology, and Social Work students who have served as volunteers with a weekly recreation/self-advocacy group for adults with developmental disabilities, which she coordinates.

The Cultural Access Network Awards are an annual event offered by the Cultural Access Network Project, which is a co-sponsored project of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.  This event was made possible in part by the support of Johnson & Johnson and Springpoint Senior Living Foundation.  

Since its inception in 1994, CAN has provided service to the state's cultural community to assist them as they make their facilities and programs more accessible to people with disabilities. The training sessions, workshops, conferences and tools and resources  offered by CAN  can be found at http://njtheatrealliance.org/access.  Patrons can also find all-inclusive listings of accessible cultural events statewide. The innovative programs and services of the Cultural Access Network Project have earned national recognition and framed New Jersey as a model among peers in the cultural access field.