When people talk about giving kids with disabilities access to the arts, they’re mostly concerned with how kids can passively visit a museum.
They should also keep in mind that kids with abilities can make art, says Kirsten Ervin, who with Tirzah DeCaria runs the year-old nonprofit Creative Citizen Studios.
“Accessibility is a big issue in all areas of community life,” says Ervin, and the arts are no different. “People just immediately assume someone can’t do something because they’re blind or don’t have good motor skills – in schools or community organizations.”
Creative Citizen Studios (CCS) aims to change that with its current six-month program at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
“We’re working to build a bridge between the arts community and the disability community,” says DeCaria. CCS already holds weekly art classes at East Liberty’s Union Project for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Now the group is taking its expertise to the children’s arts educators at the Children’s Museum, and then to other arts venue educators and the public this spring.
Even before CCS began training the museum personnel in November 2013, it took members of different disability communities and their families on a Children’s Museum tour, trying to figure out “what are the unmet needs and current strengths around accessibility and around art making,” says Ervin.
“The Children’s Museum is attempting to be a leader for attracting people with disabilities in Pittsburgh,” says DeCaria, and they are teaming with CCS to ” help the public see that high-quality art is produced by members of the disabilities community.”
Museum personnel are being trained in how to use art equipment in adaptive ways, how to communicate effectively with different segments of the community and how to configure existing spaces, such as the museum’s MakeShop, for people with disabilities.
When the program concludes in May, with museum educators helping to pass on their new skills and training to others in the local arts community, existing barriers for children will have fallen, says Ervin: “If they happen to have a wheelchair, if they happen to have a parent with a disability, these are not things that are going to prohibit them from having a wonderful art-making experience at the Children’s Museum.”
The goal of the program is to let more people with disabilities and their families know that they are welcome in arts venues, she adds, “and that staff are well trained and have resources at their disposal.”