by Lauren Garnese (MA, 2016)
During the winter of 2016, I was on a quest to find my dream internship. I spent hours applying for positions and scouring the internet. One day, I stumbled upon an incredible organization in Philadelphia that was exactly what I had been looking for. I took a leap of faith, emailed them and happily accepted a summer internship position. Three months later I boarded a plane with a single suitcase in tow and moved across the country to a city I had never visited before to join Art-Reach.
Art-Reach is a small nonprofit that connects underserved audiences (mostly people with disabilities and economic disadvantages) to Philadelphia’s arts and culture. They do this by partnering with over 180 Human Service agencies, schools and over 200 arts venues, like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Ballet to help make Philadelphia accessible to all of its community, no matter their income or ability.
This year, Art-Reach is celebrating its 30th Birthday, and they have quite a few accomplishments to toast! When Joyce Burd founded Art-Reach in 1986, its primary goal was to provide deeply discounted or free tickets from Philadelphia’s theaters to Human Service Agencies. While this program is still very much alive today, they have two additional programs: ACCESS Admission and Encore. Art-Reach’s launched their ACCESS Admission program in 2014. It allows Pennsylvanians who have a government assistance card (ACCESS Card) to receive admission to any of the 33 participating cultural institutions, such as the Please Touch Museum and the Franklin Institute for only $2. Each card admits up to four people, so a family of four can visit any museum for only $8! In its first year, ACCESS Admission was used by 45,000 people and is estimated to end this year with an astounding 100,000 users.
The heart of what Art-Reach lies within its Encore programs. Art-Reach’s Director of Programming, Charlie Miller, describes Encore Programming as: “Moving individuals from being passive observers to active participants, which deepens and enriches their engagement with the arts and cultural sector.” During my internship this summer, I have had the opportunity to participate in several of these programs, which provide a look at how institutions can provide more accessible experiences to under-served audiences.
One of the Encore programs that Art-Reach offers is an in-facility activity where an artist or musician from their roster visits an organization at their site. These experiences are helpful for an organization who might not be able to travel to an off-site location or for day programs that have drop-in visitors. In June, Art-Reach brought artist, Daria, to the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to create musical instruments with Member organization, Consortium Inc.
Art-Reach often partners with the Barnes Foundation for Art-See, bringing members on a tour of Arthur C. Barnes’ extensive art collection, followed by a hands-on art activity led by the Barnes’ educators. Art-Reach offered a similar program in July at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum (PAFA). Their educators took Art-Reach Member organization, SpArc Services, on a tour of their exhibit, Happiness, Liberty, Life? American Art and Politics, while teaching several art activities in the galleries along the way.
Other Encore experiences include Touch Tours and Verbal Descriptions of live arts events and exhibitions to audiences who are blind or low-vision. In July, Art-Reach’s Program Coordinator, Angela Wang, led a Verbal Description tour of Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind at the Library Company and described the touring Broadway musical If/Then.
Verbal Description tour of Common Touch exhibit at the Library Company. Image courtesy of Art-Reach.
These examples present only a small snapshot of what the five-person staff at Art-Reach has accomplished. In June of 2016, the organization was awarded an Impact100 grant. This generous grant will help Art-Reach provide accessible experiences to even more Philadelphians by expanding their Encore programs. Art-Reach also started an initiative called the Philadelphia Cultural Accessibility Peer Group, which connects Philadelphia’s cultural institutions for discussions and workshops, providing a platform for advocacy to increase accessibility city-wide. Follow Art-Reach on Facebook for even more exciting news about their upcoming programming.
For more information on University of San Francisco’s Museum Studies program, click here.