Seven Metro Arts Groups Receive Accessibility Grants

by Jon Skaalen on June 5, 2019

Seven Twin Cities arts organizations have been awarded ADA Access Improvement Grants by VSA Minnesota. The nonprofits will use their grants, totaling $85,860, to make their arts programs more accessible to people with disabilities. Since 2010, 156 projects by 78 different organizations have now been funded, totaling $1,791,495.

VSA Minnesota has administered the ADA Access Improvement Grant program since 2010 for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC). Funds come from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008. The purpose is to enable nonprofit arts organizations in the seven-county Twin Cities area to improve their programs, projects, equipment, or facilities in ways that have the potential for significant or long-term impact in involving more people with disabilities as participants or patrons in arts programs.

Funded projects are (* = short-term impact guidelines with smaller grants):

Zephyr Theatre, Stillwater — $14,800
This grant will remedy a number of serious safety issues at The Zephyr Theatre. They will add curb cuts to the walkways north and south and repair broken and uneven concrete. They will replace missing and sunken brick pavers and install a handrail at the southern entrance. They will repair the extremely heavy front doors and install automatic ADA compliant door openers.

Upstream Arts, Minneapolis — $15,000
Upstream Arts will offer three specialized trainings and curriculum development sessions between July 2019 and May 2020, increasing both its organizational knowledge/capacity and that of its individual teaching artists, toward better serving the individuals with disabilities that participate in its programs.

* Art Shanty Projects, Minneapolis — $5,760
Art Shanty Projects transforms the frozen lake surface of Lake Harriet into a festival that broadens perceptions of art and artist while creating positive community impact. They value artists, art in all communities and the interaction between them. Improved accessibility of the On-Ice Program expands audience outreach and adheres to the commitment of increased cultural vitality through the arts.

History Theatre, St. Paul — $15,000
In order to maintain and expand its capacity to offer superior customer service to its ADA patrons, History Theatre will enhance access services by purchasing a captioning machine with dedicated laptop; hiring additional ASL, audio description and closed captioning service providers to support added ADA performances; purchasing additional hearing enhancement headsets; and supporting ADA training for staff and volunteers.

COMPAS, St. Paul — $12,800
To involve more people with disabilities as participants in the arts, COMPAS will create and run training for 15 teaching artists and 2 staff members plus develop marketing and communications materials to let people know about new programs. Training includes learning best practices for modifying / accommodating programming to meet a range of needs; hands-on mentoring sessions with experienced teaching artist and people with disabilities; help modifying individual artists’ programs.

* Kairos Alive!, Minneapolis — $7,500
Funding for equipment, and a live captioning prototype project, will improve and expand accessibility for Kairos Alive’s online interactive streaming arts engagement programs.

Young Dance, Minneapolis — $15,000
Young Dance will purchase and install wall-to-wall sprung wood dance floor in its new space, creating the same access for all participants in the space, regardless of their method of mobilizing.

A total of 19 applications were scored on May 31 by a panel of persons active in arts and disability communities; VSA Minnesota’s board approved the panel’s recommendations. Panelists included:
Steve Anderson, Ramsey Co., Director of Disability Resources at Hamline University;
Barb Boelter, Dakota Co., parent of young adult who is DeafBlind and past PACER and Metro Deaf School board member;
Claudia Fuentes, Ramsey Co., Metropolitan Council, outreach coordinator;
Mark Olson, Hennepin Co., Institute on Community Integration, Art for All;
Ken Rodgers, Hennepin Co., MnDOT Disability Programs Coordinator, ACBMN board, Mpls. Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities chair.

These are the LAST access improvement grant to be awarded by VSA Minnesota, which will close its doors on September 27 after 33 years. In early May it also awarded its last Early Career Artist Grants to six Minnesota artists with disabilities. Those funds were provided by the Jerome Foundation for 23 years. A number of VSA’s programs will be assumed by other nonprofits, and MRAC has indicated it will continue to offer ADA Access Improvement Grants through their office in 2020. Other VSA Minnesota “stewards” include COMPAS (school arts residencies), Springboard for the Arts (assistance for artists with disabilities), and Minnesota Access Alliance (Accessible Arts Calendar online). A final celebration for VSA Minnesota will be held September 18 at Mixed Blood Theatre. For other details, see the letter on our Home page.

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