Each season, Accessibility at Lincoln Center serves nearly 500 families through the Passport to the Arts program, designed to introduce children, teens, and adults with disabilities to the performing arts through free family programs across Lincoln Center's campus.

Passport to the Arts has been a staple of Lincoln Center's accessibility programming since 1989. As the program has grown, so have many of the participants; we continue to welcome the Passport community to campus: children with disabilities who are growing into teens and adults. In thinking about developing programs for this maturing population, Miranda Hoffner, Assistant Director of Accessibility and Guest Services, was drawn to the vibrant exhibitions at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (NYPLPA). "The archive features stories behind all performing art forms," Hoffner observes. "Our colleagues at NYPLPA have been such welcoming and thoughtful collaborators. We discuss upcoming exhibitions, with a view toward ones that have eye-catching objects and a story that is compelling for a family audience. It always helps when there are interactive elements or themes that lend themselves to art or activities, too."

To activate the library's spaces, the Accessibility team looked to CO/LAB Theater Group, a nonprofit organization that offers individuals with developmental disabilities a creative and social outlet through theater arts. "We had been following CO/LAB's work in the disability community for a while and had been so impressed with their unique model," explains Hoffner. CO/LAB designs the workshops that tour through the exhibition, stopping at different objects that inform each activity. Families are encouraged to stay after and explore on their own.

NYPLPA's recent exhibition Voice of My City: Jerome Robbins and New York offered the perfect opportunity for an interactive workshop because of its emphasis on Jerome Robbins as a multidisciplinary artist. Since Robbins was not only a great dancer and choreographer, but also a talented writer and visual artist, the workshop incorporated movement as well as collage and drawing activities. Including choice is a key tenet of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which emphasizes flexible environments that can adapt to each student's learning style—especially helpful for young people with developmental and/or learning disabilities.

At the beginning of the workshop, each participant received a Leporello, the accordion-style journal Robbins preferred, featured prominently in the exhibition. The Leporellos designed for the workshop began on the first page with the prompt, "My city is…," based on Robbins's poem "Voice of My City," which opened the exhibition and framed each section throughout. Participants started by introducing themselves to the group, using the prompt, "My city is…" to frame their introduction. They might say, "My name is David, and my city is fast," followed by a sound and movement to depict this quality, which the rest of the group would repeat back.

Activating Spaces
Photo by Cait McCarthy
A young woman illustrates her own Leporello journal.

After introductions, the teaching artists facilitated a conversation about the setting of West Side Story, while watching the opening sequence projected on a wall: Where does this film take place, and how can we tell? Participants earnestly agreed that this was a New York City scene, pointing out the concrete and building stoops upon which the Jets danced, and the bridges and buildings seen in the background. These iconic New York images served as inspiration for a drawing and collage activity to complete the "My city is…" prompt in participants' Leporellos.

You can't have a workshop at a Jerome Robbins exhibition without dancing. Participants next visited displays that featured Robbins’s choreographic notations: squiggles and lines that eventually translated into the steps for his 1971 piece, The Goldberg Variations. CO/LAB teaching artists split the group into two and migrated one back to the West Side Story video, and the other to a video of Justin Peck's dance piece set in the Hudson Yards subway station. The teaching artists then presented participants with a series of colored squiggles, which the group interpreted as movements and decided collaboratively how many times to repeat, playing with the stage pictures associated with their full piece.

This eventful trip to the Robbins exhibition is just one example of Accessibility events throughout the year. Its Passport seasons feature between 30 and 45 programs designed with a range of choices for families, including performances like the New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts, as well as interactive workshops designed in collaboration with constituents, like the one described in this article.

To learn more about or donate to Accessibility at Lincoln Center's programs, including Passport, Access Ambassadors (a job-training program for high-school students with developmental disabilities), and Lincoln Center Moments (a performance series for individuals with dementia and their caregivers), please visit LincolnCenter. org/Accessibility, email [email protected], or call 212.875.5375.

Alison Mahoney is the Manager of Accessibility at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She is also a Teaching Artist for CO/LAB Theater Group's weekly Ensemble Theater classes.

Accessibility at Lincoln Center is made possible in part by endowment support provided by AIG. Additional endowment support for Accessibility at Lincoln Center is provided by Frederick P. Daniel and Elihu Rose – in Memory of Belle B. Rose.

Major support for Lincoln Center accessibility programming is provided by The Taft Foundation and Kenneth Goldman Donor Fund.

Accessibility programming is made possible by public funds facilitated by the following: New York City Council’s Autism Awareness Initiative; The Honorable Gale A. Brewer, Manhattan Borough President; The Honorable Corey Johnson, Speaker, New York City Council; and The Honorable Diana Ayala, New York City Council, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction.

Generous support for Passport to the Arts is also facilitated by The Honorable City Council Member Peter Koo.

For more information, visit LincolnCenter.org/Accessibility.