William Paterson University Awarded $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts Grant for Arts Accessibility Project

Blind Visionaries, a multimedia event on April 12, is among the projects supported by the grant.

William Paterson University in Wayne has been awarded a 2023 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Grants for Arts Project Award of $25,000 for a collaborative project between the Department of Music, University Galleries, and University Performing Arts in support of broader access to the arts for special needs populations.

The multi-discipline Arts Accessibility Project provides support for several events during the spring 2023 semester, including performances by artists with disabilities, arts activities for people with special needs, clinicians who specialize in interpreting art for neuro-divergent thinkers, and workshops for educators in the areas of choral and instrumental music, art education, and theatre education.

“This project promotes direct accessibility to and engagement with the arts as well as professional development to give educators new tools to engage with special populations,” says Wartyna Davis, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. “Diversity and inclusion are a core value at William Paterson, and we are thankful to the NEA for its support of this Arts Accessibility Project.”

Among the programs is a day-long Arts Teacher Professional Development Retreat on Thursday, March 23 on campus. More than 100 art and music educators from school districts in New Jersey and New York are expected to participate in a series of professional development workshops focused on accessible arts education.

The March 23 event will include a keynote address, “What a Wonderful World,” by Alice Hammel, one of the foremost experts in accessible music education, known worldwide for her practical approach to teaching arts to students with special needs. Hammel, a member of the music faculty at James Madison University in Virginia, is president of the Virginia Music Educators Association. In addition, Juliann Dorf, a senior lecturer at Kent State University, president of the Division of the Visual and Performing Arts (DARTS) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), and past president of the Special Needs in Art Education Interest Group of the National Art Education Association (NAEA), will present two workshops for art educators. Dorff will model best practices for visual arts instruction and special education using the University Galleries’ Spring 2023 exhibitions as a catalyst during two breakout sessions for visual arts educators. Other sessions will focus on accessibility and inclusion in choral music education and on autism and music. The program is being offered at no cost to attendees; additional support is provided by the Muna and Basem Hishmeh Foundation.

On April 12, in recognition of April as Autism Awareness Month and Minority Health and Health Disparities Month, the University will present Blind Visionaries at 7 p.m. in Shea Center on campus. The performance is a multimedia film and music collaboration between composer and pianist Daniel Kelly and The Seeing with Photography Collective, a group of blind and visually impaired photographers at the Center for the Blind in Manhattan. This event will feature audio description and large print program notes will be available upon request. Works from The Seeing with Photography Collective will be on display in the Shea Center Lobby through April 12; hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The project kicked off on March 5 and 6 with public and schooltime performances, respectively, of Omnium Circus’s production of I’m Possible. More than 1,000 families and students from the local area, and from various organizations who support individuals of all abilities, were in attendance. Omnium Circus is a pioneer in providing an accessible circus experience for all while ensuring representation of disabled and BIPOC artists on a world-class stage. American Sign Language is fully integrated into every show and audio description available at every performance.

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support arts projects in communities nationwide,” said NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD. “Projects such as this one with William Paterson University’s performing and visual arts departments that strengthen arts and cultural ecosystems, provide equitable opportunities for arts participation and practice, and contribute to the health of our communities and our economy.”

This grant is one of 1,251 Grants for Arts Projects awards totaling nearly $28.8 million that were announced by the NEA as part of its first round of fiscal year 2023 grants.