03 Jun Artists, Disability & Our Cultural Institutions
Artists, Disability & Our Cultural Institutions
Thursday, May 23, 2019
**This transcription provides a meaning-for-meaning summary to facilitate communication access. This language has not been reviewed or approved by the speakers and should not be used for direct quotation.**
Nia I’man Smith: Greetings, everyone. Hi! Good evening. I’m Nia I’man Smith. I’m the Community Engagement Associate here at BRIC. I am so glad you could join us this evening.
BRIC is celebrating 40 years as the leading presenter of cultural programming in Brooklyn. Has anyone been here before? Everyone knows BRIC!
We present and incubate work by artists who reflect the diversity that surrounds us. We also offer education and community building programs. We are honored to host tonight’s conversation in partnership with Museum, Arts and Culture Access Consortium as a component of our disability forward fund grant.
This conversation culminates a series of workshops for arts professionals to share learnings and best practices to make institutions accessible for all. We are excited to have these artists in and hearing the artist’s perspectives.
Before we begin, I would like to thank organizations that have shared their time and expertise to us. Thank you to HeartShare, CO/LAB Theater Group, AHRC NY, Brooklyn Community Services, DreamStreet, and MAC. Please stay after this presentation and share the food. It will be a wonderful time.
I introduce you now to Samantha Schott, the vice-chair of MAC and the assistant manager of gallery programs at the Jewish Museum.
Samantha Schott: I’m shorter than Nia. I’m Samantha Schott. I’m the vice-chair of the Museum, Arts and Culture Access Consortium. I’m honored to welcome you here today and excited to be concluding our partnership with BRIC with this amazing panel of artisans and all of you here today.
MAC was the first access consortium in the United States. We bring together a steering committee of disability professionals and advocates across the New York City metro area. We have conferences, we share best practices, and we operate a cultural calendar to promote accessible programming.
We started with and continue to work towards the goal of creating a network of mutual support for cultural practitioners and disability advocates to make culture in New York City accessible to everyone.
In addition to these projects, our current focus is supporting institutions in the earlier stages of making their practices accessible. If that applies to you, please reach us to find out more.
We also invite everyone here to continue to use MAC as a resource for your institution by attending workshops, joining our mailing list, becoming a member, or applying to be our steering committee.
We’d like to thank the FAR Fund and the Kennedy Center and the Cultural Community Affairs that allow us to have free programming like this.
I would now like to introduce Madison Zalopany, our moderator, as well as our panelists, Shannon Finnegan, Jerron Herman, Safia Al-Rawi, and Joseph Orban. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
Madison Zalopany: Hi, y’all. Thank you for being here. Thank you all for being here. Let’s start by looking at our panelists’ work and getting a sense of what they do as artists. Then we’ll take the conversation from there.
Shannon Finnegan: I’m up first. Madison’s name is on the screen. Now my name is on the screen.
The image on the screen now is a blue bench. It’s made out of a plywood-like material and it’s bright blue. The text reads: This exhibition has asked me to stand for too long. Sit if you agree.
I work in a lot of different ways. I think a core thread of my work is thinking about disability culture and accessibility, especially pushing back on compliance oriented approaches to accessibility or checklist approaches.
I want to think about access in ongoing creative and evolving ways. I don’t know what order the slides are in. This will be fun.
The next image is a project I did called Anti-stairs Club Lounge.
Shannon Finnegan: This image shows the exterior. Is the microphone working?
This is the exterior of the lounge which features this big sign that says “anti-stairs club lounge” in a stair-inspired font. Then there is an open door.
Through the door is a chair, some plants, the edge of a mini fridge. I did this at an exhibition space which is a very inaccessible space.
This program intervenes in that space and I was trying to point to the inaccessibility. That door is actually locked. To get access to the space, you have to sign in at the front desk to certify that you’re not going upstairs.
The lounge becomes exclusively for those staying on the ground floor.
This is another image of the interior of the lounge. There are chairs with cushions, a lamp, some reading materials. You can see half of the wall text that says “the higher you climb, the farther you fall.” It was bringing humor and anti-stairs ethos into the space.
I also did a version of this project for the Vessel, which just opened at Hudson Yards in Manhattan. It’s a one mile vertical climb of stairs. It’s a basket-like structure made of interlocking staircases.
The structure is in the background of this image with 40 people posed in front of it. Most of them are wearing bright orange fluorescent hats.
This project was similar. In order to participate in the lounge, you had to sign a pledge saying, “As long as I live, I will not go up a single step at the Vessel.”
Speaker: Sorry about that.
Shannon Finnegan: This image shows someone signing one of those pledges. It’s a handwritten contract with a place for signature, name, and date.
Madison Zalopany: Now we’ll kick off to Safia Al-Rawi and Joseph Orban to talk about DreamStreet Theater Company.
Safia Al-Rawi: You can click through the images.
Madison Zalopany: I will briefly describe the slide. It’s the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion< and the Scarecrow. The lion is lying on the stage with his legs sticking straight up to the sky.
Talk to us about this play.
Joseph Orban: I played the part of the Scarecrow. It was fun being a scarecrow. I did “If I Only Had a Brain” because he didn’t know that he had brains. He sang about that because he doesn’t have a brain in the beginning.
Safia Al-Rawi: In that production I played the part of kind of a goat. I didn’t know I was going to play that. I thought I was going to play another role. But it was a lot of fun to play.
Madison Zalopany: These were adapted scenes from The Wizard of Oz and Wicked?
Safia Al-Rawi: Yes.
Madison Zalopany: This appears to be a blue background on a stage. A woman on the left is smiling and wearing a Happy New Year hat. Four people are in the center. A woman on the left has her hand in the air with a black leotard.
A woman on the right looks like she is bowing. The two people in the background are moving so it’s blurry. Can you tell us about what this photo is from?
Joseph Orban: The person holding the hat is my good friend.
Madison Zalopany: Was she playing a part in a play? Where is this performance at?
Joseph Orban: This was back in 2015. I think she played a part of one of the Munchkins.
Madison Zalopany: That’s going back to the Wizard of Oz inspired play.
Safia Al-Rawi: I believe she was Dorothy.
Joseph Orban: Oh, yeah. Actually Christy was Dorothy. Sorry, I got it mixed up.
Madison Zalopany: This is a colleague from DreamStreet?
Joseph Orban: Yes.
They go to Dream street.
Madison Zalopany: How often do you rehearse at Dreamstreet?
Joseph Orban: A lot.
Safia Al-Rawi: I go Tuesdays Thursdays and Sundays. According to this picture I would have to say it was New Years Eve. It was about us and our dreams we have. We got to perform to different songs on New Years Eve Night. We did a scene around that and then we got to sign and dance a lot to different songs and dances. It was really fun to see what our futures would be like.
Madison Zalopany: What were your dreams for that New Years Eve?
Safia Al-Rawi: Mine? I guess it’s an odd dream to have now, but I was singing and mostly dancing to Dancing Queen on New Years.
Madison Zalopany: Would you like to share?
Joseph Orban: I do like Dreamstreet a lot. I like the arts. I like dancing and singing and performing on stage and acting. It’s lots of fun to me.
Madison Zalopany: I will go to the next slide. Familiar faces. There’s Safia and the gentleman on the right it looks like you are signing your autograph on the playbill?
Safia Al-Rawi: Yeah I guess I did!
Madison Zalopany: So this gentleman on the right is an admiring fan?
Safia Al-Rawi: I guess so!
Madison Zalopany: Do you get lots of praise and attention for your work on stage?
Safia Al-Rawi: It feels good to be on stage and perform for thousands of people. It might be nerve wracking but once you are on stage you get loose and once you get used to it more and more, you get used to it and it’s more amazing.
Madison Zalopany: Do you have a similar story of fans after performances?
Joseph Orban: It’s a good feeling when a fan comes up to you after a performance. They give you compliments like “you did a great job.” And I love that.
Madison Zalopany: That’s great. Now we have a picture of Joe on the left and a woman on the right. We see them both in profile.
Tell us about this picture.
Joseph Orban: Sure! [Laughter.]
The girl on the right is my girlfriend. She is very nice to be. It’s almost 15 years this November.
Madison Zalopany: Wow. Congratulations. That’s great. Is she in Dreamstreet too?
Joseph Orban: Yes.
Madison Zalopany: I’m just being nosy now, but did you meet at Dreamstreet?
Joseph Orban: We didn’t meet there, but in school. At Bishop Ford High school.
Madison Zalopany: So through word of mouth she heard about Dreamstreet and you told her to give it a go.
Joseph Orban: Sure.
Madison Zalopany: Lovely. Thank you both! We will pass it over to Jerron.
Jerron Herman: Hello! I’m the dancer on the panel. The first image here is an artistic rendering from Ryan Hartley Smith. We collaborated on this image together for a collaboration with Amplified Justice here in New York City and the Disabled List with Liz Jackson an artist and activist with a disability. She has a catalog of disabled people you can look for in your needs for consultation and engagement.
She sponsored this collab between me and Ryan who did a series of illustrations around social justice and me and Ryan’s disability. This is an image, a blue wispy figure in profile, muscular holding a cane.
Next is the poster that was erected by the Department of Transportation on 25th and Lennox and was in the Financial District in New York City. This is about my practice in disability arts and it extends beyond disciplines. This aspect of collaboration and being an activist is about furthering the conversation around disability and my own body.
With Ryan it was very encouraging to have someone who wasn’t disabled and into his own practice and have it intersect with me in an authentic and fast way. We created this together and it was a bit of an “a ha” and that simple and deep things can happen quickly.
This is all about me! I believe that disability representation takes on different forms with me being a front performer that allows me to be profiled and the body as well in different modes. Here are two pictures on the left. That’s me in profile wearing a constructed sweater and black pants. I consulted on this project with Nike and this academy, the Pencil Academy in Beaverton Oregon. We created what would be accessible clothing in the Nike aesthetic.
On the right that’s me looking straight at the camera with a brick wall. Then my spastic arm curled towards my chest and this is a work I did with Tommy Hilfiger for their adoptive line for Spring. These are about my intersections with institutions and organizations that has been informative as a person and artist in the role of consultant. That power shift of expertise lent to me as the artist/model/advisor/what have you. It’s been interesting to step into those roles for these high power institutions.
This photo I am proud of. It was my first experience operating in the collegiate setting. I went to Marlboro College in Vermont where I showed an excerpt of my last piece, Phys Ed and did a master class workshop with the students there.
From here I developed my own practice and workshop identity where I go to further provide it for others. It’s been directly from my experience of disability and cerebral palsy being my diagnosis. From this picture I developed a fun association with hemoplasia and I asked the participants to go along through a movement journey with me and finding out what movement looked like on one side of the body.
Through that lots came out. And it was so cool to be on campus. Artists have intersected with academic institutions but with disabled artists it’s newer and exciting. Then here is Linda who is a disabled playwright and the only person on staff there that’s disabled.
This is my experience with a performance. Performance Space invited me to be on the steering committee for the most explosive disability led, and run, festival. It’s called I Want to Be With You Everywhere. This happened about a month ago and it brought together these amazing voices and I had the time of my life. This is me in a performance I call Relative.
The subtitle is A Crip Dance Party. I enjoyed performing around the audience. We dismantled the stages and created a circular environment. I am in a metallic jumpsuit. Again, my spastic left arm is close to my chest and I look out at the crowd and they look back at me. It’s misty and blue in the background. This was the first time a very highly influential performance venue put their money where their mouth was and provided resources above market value for the artists.
Access was complaint and it was even constructive I would say. It was a space where disability was thought of as a part of the dance, part of the whole experience. Me and the steering committee had all these conversations on not front loading the idea of access. It’s tiring to be honest. So we were thinking about the experience of disability and how the body of the artist leads us to create these accessible spaces. From the body of the artist we get spaces that become accessible which can become something even more.
That was an experience I will keep forever. And that’s me with all my information. Thank you.
Madison Zalopany: Thank you.
I think this question might be redundant because I think it came out through all the conversations but I know Joseph was eager to answer the question of what disability artistry is. What does it mean to be a disabled actor or artist?
Joseph Orban: Disability and artists it’s all about being special and being an artist. I like going to disability meets and being in the arts and being included in the acts. It’s been part of my life for a very long time and I am very grateful. . . .
Madison Zalopany: Safia, did you want to answer the question? What does it mean to you to be a disabled artist or actor and to work?
Safia Al-Rawi: What having a disability means to me is not just being defined as having a disability but it means being an individual. It means to present yourself and be a good role model. Not just as actors, but just being yourself. That’s more important than being popular. Just making friends in your own way and finding those friends in your own way and getting to know them.
Once you get to know them then you become friends. From time to time you might do fun activities or other things around the city. That’s the best thing about having a disability. Being normal in your own way.
Madison Zalopany: I think that’s very well said and resonated with the idea of being visible. The work of being a performer and artist and filling the spaces of the places you work and putting people into these spaces and reclaiming them. Jerron, I know you talked about disability aesthetics and artistry and the uniqueness of your dance movements. Could you talk to the journey and playing with those aesthetics?
Safia Al-Rawi: I started taking classes in New Jersey. That’s how I started doing theater. I took dance classes. After the first year I kept on moving as a person with a disability. I just kept moving on as a dancer after that first year. I’m more and more used to it.
After that I started doing theater. When I did theater, I enjoyed it more because I got to be in fun productions and shows. I got to know new people. I get to be with them and have fun.
When I moved to Brooklyn, I didn’t know what to expect. When I was working at Methodist Hospital, my supervisor found out about DreamStreet. That’s how I started knowing about DreamStreet.
When I got to DreamStreet, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. But within the second year of DreamStreet, I liked it even better because we have this amazing director who taught us more and it made me feel more welcomed. I feel so good about it. That’s what I love about DreamStreet.
Madison Zalopany: It’s part of the welcoming aspect of feeling like it’s more of a collaboration and you’re working together to make something?
Safia Al-Rawi: Making something even bigger and more exciting. And I have good friends. I even have friends that I didn’t know them before DreamStreet. It’s so much fun to be part of DreamStreet.
It’s so fun to have more and more friends as you move on. That’s the best part of DreamStreet.
Jerron Herman: I had a similar experience when I joined Heidi Latsky Dance. I didn’t start with friends with disabilities. I didn’t have any friends that had disabilities.
When I joined the dance company, that’s when I got most of the friends that I have now with disabilities. It was doing the work. It was doing the work of going to rehearsal, being together, learning choreography, performing, and all these things.
Also, the parts that you couldn’t choreograph, like going on a bus or going on the train after rehearsal and talking about what rehearsal was like, these were all points that created camaraderie.
I didn’t realize it helped me come to my own artistic practice. In some weird way, it took two non-disabled white people to tell me that I could dance in order for me to think that I could dance and get into the industry.
And now I’ve graduated, in a way. They become consultants in everything I’m doing rather than wondering if they will affirm me. That’s really encouraging.
That’s what has led me to come to this idea. Even the diagnosis, I love it. It’s ironic for me. What I was given as a diagnosis is now propelling how I make movement.
Madison Zalopany: Shannon, we’ve talked about coming together. I feel like your work is such a crucial part of that.
Shannon Finnegan: Yes, I have had such a similar experience around disability, of feeling isolated from disabled people and creating art to help me understand how disability operates in the world.
In my work, I think of other disabled people as the core audience for my work. That’s the center of my audience.
That informs my process. More and more, I’m thinking about different ways of doing that. Access logistics and access as a creative force all swirl together as I’m thinking about who will be able to experience the work.
Madison Zalopany: That’s an interesting transition. I know we’re all usually here because we’re part of institutions. I would love to talk about the way cultural institutions have supported your work.
Anybody can jump in. It might be how DreamStreet has supported you guys as actors or how different cultural institutions have done some good things.
Shannon Finnegan: I can start. I’ve had very varied experiences. Something I have been thinking about a lot recently is whether or not I’m taking on some of the accessibility work in a way that is relieving institutions of their responsibility to do that work.
I often feel like I go into a situation. If I’m not bringing up access, it’s not happening. It’s important to me that things are accessible and that’s a consideration.
But I think I’m still trying to figure out how to handle that situation when I’m brought in as an artists but I’m talking about whether or not the website is accessible.
Madison Zalopany: Do you invoice them for a consultancy? That’s my new idea.
Shannon Finnegan: Something has to change. More boundaries or something.
For me, situations that have been really positive are going into situations where there’s a clear person on staff who’s the point person for accessibility for audience as well as accessibility for me as a creator.
At the very beginning of the relationship, that needs to be really clear and those lines of communication need to be open. It really helps when the people who are working on access and everyone at the organization understand that accessibility is not about something we “should” do or a “nice thing to do.”
They need to really understand that access is important for getting disabled people in the space and understanding that value. That makes a big difference.
Jerron Herman: I’d like to say something about disabled artists and the performing institutions. Institutions are centering audiences as well. They’re interested in being compliant so disabled audiences can come into a building to see the work, but there isn’t a very critical eye of the breadth of disabled artists they will welcome to present work.
Hearing stories that the dressing room is not accessible, the stage door is not accessible, etc. There are structural barriers for the artists creating work, and institutions assume they’re just not creating work.
“I want to be with you everywhere” was enlightening for me because the environment was for all of us. It took into account who was coming, even from the idea of what wouldn’t let the institution be compensated the same way such as free tickets.
Knowing your audience is knowing that there are so many different restrictions that that population encounters. Then how do you give space for that sliding scale? That was an effective way to get more people into the space.
There was such a new vision around assuming that disabled artists are coming to the fore and they have something to say that is just as critical and interesting.
The next phase is to program multiple disabled people. Let’s get two, you know? Let’s get two a season instead of one. [Laughter] That’s what I’m hoping for.
Shannon Finnegan: Every five years we reach the quota.
Madison Zalopany: So far I’m hearing anxiety around the audiences as well as for yourself. I’m going to ask Safia and Joseph, what makes you feel confident and secure to work in a cultural institution? What makes you feel supported at a place like DreamStreet or BRIC?
Joseph Orban: At DreamStreet, they interact with the kids through dancing or singing. They put effort into the plays that they do. They do a lot of hard work between the choreography and the singing. They do all the stuff as well as the acting.
Safia Al-Rawi: I would have to agree with Joseph. There’s something about DreamStreet that enables all of us. It’s not just dancing and acting through DreamStreet. We also enjoy the teachers and the warm-ups that are vocal warm-ups and physical warm-ups and moving around, getting to know that access.
DreamStreet even has workshops. When they have workshops, they are amazing where you can learn different aspects of dancing or singing or aspects of song writing and doing different types of dances. You get to learn those things. It’s really fun to learn those things. And we love doing that.
Madison Zalopany: It feels like maybe the breadth of choice that you have to do at DreamStreet and the work that people put in for you guys to sing or learn choreography or have different opportunities through the arts to be expressive or put on a show, does that make you feel like the institution is really for you?
Safia Al-Rawi: Yes, I believe it does. It forced me to be a really good actress. It depends on the work you do. If you’re working hard and doing what you love, that’s the most important.
Jerron Herman: Similarly, when I meet the director or the CEO or the board or some person from the executive staff on top of the person that’s commissioned me, if the artistic director or institution manager is meeting with me, that’s a sign that they are also part of the conversation.
It’s similar to what you said about access. It’s top-down and integral. It doesn’t make me feel like someone had to do some back-end dealing to get me there. I was wanted. Everyone had the same idea and was on the same page.
Shannon Finnegan: One thing I am really tuned into is where access information is communicated by an institution. Is it in one page buried in the website? Does it go out in every email about every event?
From certain kinds of relatively simple things like that, they can help me gauge the work that an institution has done and where they’re at in terms of thinking about access. That helps me understand a little bit about what type of support to expect.
Madison Zalopany: Do you feel there’s maybe a threshold of lack of access that would make you feel like it’s not a place to work with? I don’t want you to call out specific names.
Shannon Finnegan: It’s hard because of the power imbalance. I still identify as an emerging artist. I’m often thinking about opportunities in a way of building my practice and finding different types of support.
I feel very much in the process of navigating when to say no to things. But it’s hard when you’re communicating with a powerful institution to set those boundaries.
Jerron Herman: What do you say? I worried about the conversation I needed to have with Nike and the position they had put me in. It was very difficult. I think I emailed five people, “What do I do??”
I was afraid if I rocked the boat too hard, I would have been out of the industry and the company. It was very important to me. I just saw the precarity of my role there and their devotion to me. It’s thin. [Laughter]
But I still needed them to know the threshold I was at. It was very nuanced. It wasn’t like, “You don’t have a ramp.” It was more like, “How you’re talking about this is icky.”
It felt almost petty to me. “You’re doing so much, and yet this little thing needs to be tweaked.” There were a lot of things I was dealing with in my conversation.
But when I had the conversation with the person I needed to go to, afterwards I was cool even if they kicked me out. They got the information. Plus, they had to know that bringing me on meant they would get that second eye. I can’t get upset that they’re upset that I was giving feedback to them. I have to own that.
Safia Al-Rawi: You guys made good points actually.
That spoke to me when I found out I was going to have a disability and I didn’t know what I had. I had lots of surgeries and I did not know what to expect. But my mom and I managed to go through it together. We wanted for me to feel better —
Madison Zalopany: Is there ever a time when you felt unwelcomed in a cultural institution as an artist?
Joseph Orban: No. I don’t feel unwelcomed. But I will just say this; keep on doing what you are doing and cultivating your dream. It doesn’t matter if you do dance, or choreography, or singing, or acting, it’s all fun. It’s all having a good time.
Madison Zalopany: Sorry. Is there a runner for the mic? Go ahead!
Audience member: Hi. I’m Maddy and I attend DreamStreet as well. I do feel that DreamStreet does have opportunities but I heard there are more opportunities elsewhere. And we should do more opportunities at DreamStreet like commercials and movies. Or like a documentary. I want us to spend more on theater and epic. I think we should have more opportunities at DreamStreet. I think that’s what DreamStreet should do. I feel like the board of directors should talk about this. We should do other opportunities too, not just theater
Like television or movies. Epic is doing that. It’s about time we spent more. Thank you.
Madison Zalopany: I think in general, should we open it up to questions? John?
Audience: Jerron, you mentioned disrupted access. What do you mean by that?
Jerron Herman: It’s very impactful. We had a STEM room adjacent to the theater It was about tactile and ED things and cushions, like a disabled dream!
But it was so interesting but in that room you were encouraged to be quiet but it became the center of communication and people would just come together there in a way that it wasn’t intended to be. But it served that community too.
So it’s about making something accessible for the community but they need to consent to that level or threshold of access. And it was that the STEM quiet room didn’t need to be so sterile.
Audience: At the Hudson Yards were those petitions ….
Madison Zalopany: Sorry, please use the mics because it’s easier for everyone to hear and the CART.
Audience: Sorry. To Shannon, I saw the petitions about not taking a step at the Hudson Yards. Did that have an impact?
Shannon Finnegan: It’s a nuanced access situation there. There’s an “ADA Complaint Elevator” in the space but to me it’s irrelevant. Because the way it’s talked about is around climbing. When you take the elevator, there’s stairs on all levels. Each level goes up and down.
Someone asked me before the project what my ask was. Like what I hoped to accomplish. I think the ableism is so entrenched in that structure that there is not really a lot that can happen now.
So what I have said, the stated goal of the protest, is a permanent anti-stairs lounge with a 2 Million dollar budget which is what the Vessel had.
Audience: I have a question for Jerron, because it looks like you don’t have cerebral palsy. It looks like you are walking straight.
Jerron Herman: I have gotten that for sure! And that’s about my work too. “Disabled Not Enough.” But that’s, I mean, I deal with it everyday! It’s really tough to answer that.
I think there’s a way I am very legible to presenters and people who want to bring disability to their spaces that’s safe, or safer, than someone with an assistive device. So I have become complicit in the narrative of disability just so far, or you don’t have to make something integrally accessible. I can use my arm for different things and walk up stairs. I’m adaptable.
So that’s entrenched in my experiences in PT as a kid and that I’ve acquired all this knowledge that makes me seem non-disabled. So I’m in a process now where I’m figuring out the aid I need. I’m asking for the first time what do I need? What do I want? I’m asking for help, or rather for accessibility.
Audience: Hi there and thank you all so much.
I’m curious. It seems like collaboration is a big part of your practices and across different vectors of power, like with teachers, and collaborators or students, or with these big institutions. Often the collaboration takes the form as with a group of humans. For you what are the foundations that are important to be in place when you start that? In terms of mindsets, or exercises or nitty gritty questions you want to ask? Or mushy, like what are the foundations we need to agree on for the collaboration to be successful?
Between you and the person who has more power potentially?
Jerron Herman: I have asked two questions: What do you want from me? And what do you want for me?
That’s been my own desire to have it in the open. Where are the things you expect? And what are your dreams for me in the space?
For the workshops where the relationship is more reciprocal or there’s less of a power dynamic, I think of the art first and what we are there to explore.
When you focus on disabled audiences, I’m more in the middle and thinking about the audiences that I want to interact with. So it’s about knowing I need to speak to multiple experiences at the same time.
Madison Zalopany: Joseph Orban or Safia, would you like to talk about what makes a good collaboration?
Joseph Orban: I like to work with people. I do collaborate with other people. I’m very funny and outgoing. I like to meet people and collaborate with new people. When I first came to DreamStreet, I met Kendra. Lots of nice people at DreamStreet.
I have made lots of friends over there. Like Frank who does the DJ. We performed a little dance party over there. And they have things like pizza and glasses of water, and we have a good time.
Audience: Pizza is very important to collaboration!
Madison Zalopany: Yes! It is!
Audience: I have a question. Joseph, before you spoke about American Idol, why don’t you talk to that about DreamStreet. Do people ever get sent home or not included?
Joseph Orban: At DreamStreet compared to American Idol they try to out-sing other people and you get sent home. But they don’t do that at DreamStreet. That’s why I said that. DreamStreet doesn’t let you down.
Safia Al-Rawi: To the other question you asked, I volunteer as well. It’s young kids ages 2-7. So we get to sing and dance with them and meet with them. It’s really fun. We get to know the kids, but also the parents.
Meeting the parents and getting to know them it helps us work with the kids and help them learn skills. We learn different words during school. Something I like about the experience is we do fun things that are very unique. Different activities and trips in the city. They make friends through the year. I think it’s a good place to work.
Madison Zalopany: So you are talking about getting to know the kids and acting as a mentor and role model.
Safia Al-Rawi: Yeah. Especially for me as a person with a disability.
I think someone like me with a disability it’s amazing to talk to different groups. We are in different social groups and we do fun trips and activities. It’s amazing how much more I can do.
Shannon Finnegan: Back to the question about collaboration, I think that’s something I am still really in the process of figuring out. I relate to what Jerron said about knowing what to ask for, or what’s in place. But I think a big part of it like when you talked about Nike, and framing my presence in a space, I need to think about what am I there for?
Is it just about saying something about an event where disability happened? Or is someone interested in my work? Or is someone trying to envision change and make it happen? I don’t think I have great ways of understanding that but it goes back to where you said about what does a collaborator want from the collaboration?
Madison Zalopany: Going back to what makes you trust a collaboration or something like that, I know there’s been lots of talk about accessibility riders. Do you have thoughts on that?
Like if someone is like, here is everything. What more do you want? Is that a good place to start?
Safia Al-Rawi: I don’t want to speak for everyone, but accessibility —
Madison Zalopany: Pardon me —
An accessibility rider is an agreement. They are saying they agree to something about performing in a play. Like maybe you need a wheelchair and a ramp, so they would agree on that and provide it.
Safia Al-Rawi: I can see that when people come to DreamStreet. You see how they react and how they act. The way they move their bodies, how flexible they can be. It depends on what’s comfortable to them. There are different types of people learning in different ways, learning how to move around.
Especially in the city. You see people in walkers. You feel bad for them but you see them everywhere you go and you see how they get around. They do their best to move around. _
Jerron Herman: I’m curious. Does DreamStreet talk to the venues when you’re about to perform somewhere? Do you talk about what your needs are at the theater you’re performing in?
Safia Al-Rawi: There are different theaters we’ve performed at. The needs are based on knowing your lines and memorizing your lines and getting into character and being in the show. It might be hard at first, but the more you get used to it, the better you become.
Shannon Finnegan: To go back to the idea of a document or an agreement around access, I think the formality of that has felt hard to implement. But I have felt really excited about that idea, especially because I think, like Jerron, I’m still learning about what I can ask for and what is helpful to me.
We can share those documents with each other. In my rider I said after I fly I always need a day of rest before I start performing. It’s creating more options and helping each other envision what those possibilities are.
Madison Zalopany: Are there some good resources you can share that are easily Google-able?
Shannon Finnegan: I can’t remember what it’s called. Something just came out of the UK. I’ll look it up.
Jerron Herman: Disability Arts International is a whole database of disability artists in the UK. It’s a list.
Safia Al-Rawi: There’s a playhouse where you can click on the link and you can see the activities they do during the week.
Shannon Finnegan: I think I won’t be able to find that actually.
A more general resource I’ve been excited about is Access Is Love. It was created by three activists, Mia Mingus [sp?], Alice Wong [sp?], and a third person whose name I really should remember.
There is a great list of ten things to do to start making things accessible. There’s also an incredible reading and resource list that gets into the details of what to think about with different types of events.
I have been so thrilled about that because it feels like a great thing to send out.
Jerron Herman: I just heard that Caroline Lazard [sp?] just published Arts as Accessibility. It’s a pamphlet. They just published a pamphlet.
Shannon Finnegan: I think it’s called Art & Accessibility: A Promise and a Practice. I heard there will be a website coming this summer.
Madison Zalopany: Any other questions in the audience?
Samantha Schott: I’m just curious what is next for all of you? What projects are you working on, if you don’t mind sharing?
Joseph Orban: Well, we don’t really know what we are doing next year. It’s all up. We might do a little West Side Story. Or we might do Safia Al-Rawi’s favorite play, Mama Mia.
Safia Al-Rawi: I don’t know what it would be, but at DreamStreet we have something this summer.
Jerron Herman: Can I name it? I’m going to be performing at the Whitney Museum July 25th. [APPLAUSE] It’s part of the Americans with Disabilities Act Celebration Day.
I’ll also be doing a season at Dance Space Project with my collaborator, Ali Joyce [sp?] the second week of November. I’m also performing with Heidi Latsky Dance throughout the city. [APPLAUSE]
Shannon Finnegan: I am currently a resident at Eyebeam in Bushwick, where I’ve been doing a project with a collaborator around web accessibility, specifically describing images in order to make them accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.
We have been doing a series of things around that. We’ve been doing these workshops called Alt Text Is Poetry where we try to get people to engage in the describing process in a more thoughtful and creative way.
Madison Zalopany: Okay, let’s wrap it up. [Laughter] Thank you guys so much. [APPLAUSE]
Nia I’man Smith: Everyone, please stay to mix, mingle, and enjoy some wine, cheese, and crackers!
[End of event.]
**This transcription provides a meaning-for-meaning summary to facilitate communication access. This language has not been reviewed or approved by the speakers and should not be used for direct quotation.**