This October, as we celebrate Disability Awareness Month, Lincoln Center shines a light on outstanding work and developments that increase participation in the performing arts for people with disabilities. We're excited to see more focus recently on the "largest minority in the world," including a dedicated column exploring the lives of people living with disabilities in The New York Times. For our part, we're taking an in-depth look at some of the communities in our city and how they interact with cultural events.
Our first article this month explored how hearing loss can affect an audience member's experience of cultural events. Today, we're looking at how disability on a broader scale intersects with the arts from a performance perspective.
The CDC estimated in 2015 that 53 million adults in the United States live with a disability. When we look to the arts and popular culture, it can be difficult to see the experiences of these Americans reflected and even more difficult to see the work of artists with disabilities—recent conversations around inclusion have revealed that 95% of TV characters with some sort of disability (only 0.9% of characters in 2015–16) are played by able-bodied actors.
I recently reached out to Dance/NYC, an organization that is exploring inclusion in the New York dance community through research, conversation, and advocacy. Executive Director Lane Harwell shared the mission of Dance/NYC and how he hopes that this work will affect the arts community as a whole.
Katie Fanning: What is Dance/NYC?
Lane Harwell: Dance/NYC's mission is to promote the knowledge, appreciation, practice, and performance of dance in the metropolitan New York City area. It embeds values of equity and inclusion into all aspects of the organization. It works in alliance with Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance.
KF: Can you tell us about the mission of the Disability. Dance. Artistry. initiative?
LH: Announced in 2015, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Disability. Dance. Artistry. initiative aims to advance a cultural ecosystem that expressly and equitably includes disabled artists. This work extends Dance/NYC's core capabilities for research, technology, and convening, and the organizational values of equity and inclusion.
Major activities have included two research reports, Discovering Disability: Data & NYC Dance and Disability. Dance. Artistry., the development of online resources at Dance.NYC, and regular convening on disability matters, developed with a task force of disabled artists, educators, and disability advocates.
Currently, we are presenting Disability. Dance. Artistry.: (Inter)National Voices, a series of conversations at the intersection of disability and dance. The series coincides with a national initiative and a set of convenings across the United States undertaken by AXIS Dance Company with support from Dance/USA. The fourth and final event in this series will take place on November 15 at Barnard College. It is free and open to the public and we encourage your readers to join us. Register today.
KF: How does raising awareness and beginning conversation about disability in dance affect the work of Dance/NYC?
LH: The effort has forced Dance/NYC to look inward as well as outward, to identify opportunities to increase usability and the integration of disabled artists both in our internal operations and public-facing programs. This is work every one of us working in the arts and culture can be doing.
Above all, Dance/NYC's approach has been to follow the disability rights principle “Nothing Without Us” and to seize upon on big, blue-sky program recommendations grounded in dialogue with the disability community.
As one key example, we have just announced a Disability. Dance. Artistry. Fund, made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation. Dance/NYC invites self-identified integrated dance makers to submit proposals for grants ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 to support production costs for integrated performance(s) in the New York City metropolitan area from January 2017 through March 2018. The purpose of the funding initiative is to generate dance making and performance by and with disabled artists. This activity is intended to advance artistic innovation and excellence—and, by extension, further disability rights.
KF: Where do you see potential for greater inclusion in the dance community and the arts community as a whole in New York City?
LH: By showing how work made by and with disabled artists elevates the arts' creative and progressive potential, Disability. Dance. Artistry. is making the case for removing systemic barriers and for working with disabled artists from the public school classroom to the professional stage.
This is a call for action that should resonate with every cultural worker and supporter. As examples, artists and institutions may advance innovation, excellence, and impact by expanding art making with disabled artists and improving communications, physical, and programmatic access.
For present and future arts educators, there are opportunities for growing inclusive classrooms and expanding career readiness for disabled students, strengthening the pipeline for professional artists.
For grant makers, investing in disabled artists would have an exponential benefit for the future of the creative sector and society at large. Grant making in the arts can be optimized by engaging disabled people in fund development.
While leadership at all levels of government is critical, the opportunity for advancing local policy is particularly ripe because New York City's Department of Cultural Affairs is undertaking a cultural planning process mandated by the City Council. There are both practical and bold ways to address disability through the planning, ranging from employing a disability expert and mining interagency opportunities to laying the groundwork for a global center for disability arts. Such a center could significantly evolve New York's role both as a cultural capital and a beacon for civil rights.
Without explicitly addressing usability and the meaningful participation of disabled people through the planning process and implementation, the City cannot realize an equitable cultural policy and ensure that disabled artists flourish.
As a proud ally of disabled artists, I hope you will join me in heeding this call to action.
Katie Fanning is Coordinator, Guest Services & Accessibility, at Lincoln Center.
Questions? The staff at Accessibility at Lincoln Center can be reached at [email protected] or 212.875.5375. For more information on the range of accommodations available at Lincoln Center, please visit www.lincolncenter.org/visit/accessibility.