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Cultural Organizations Awarded $475,000 to Innovate Around Access

Charles G. Baldwin, Program Officer

This funding looks to go beyond ADA compliance to inspire direct actions and fresh ideas

photo of a darkened stage, a long row of tables flanked on one side by 9 actors wearing white chef's hats and aprons. They are each needing dough in a bowl with an additional bowl of water in front of each person.
Still from a performance of Na Laga’at “Not by Bread Alone”

The Universal Participation (UP) Initiative has been a small but mighty program at Mass Cultural Council and since 2015 has been centering inclusive design solutions to Access needs at Massachusetts cultural institutions.

The UP Initiative’s Innovation Fund offers annual grants to UP Designated Organizations to plan, implement, and evaluate accessible goods, services, programs, and policies. In FY23, each of the 95 UP Designated Organizations will receive a $5,000 Innovation Fund grant, a total investment of $475,000. These grants provide an opportunity to build inclusive practices that address needs across multiple environments including, but not limited to, physical and digital places of assembly, healthy communities, employment and fair labor practices, and social, cultural, and physical barriers. Building innovative solutions to address barriers are self-defined by the current practices of the UP Organization.

This funding looks to go beyond compliance to inspire direct actions and fresh ideas. Over time, this multi-year funding* is intended to shift the changing of individual hearts and minds towards changing institutional systems and policies. While Access priorities are determined by each UP Organization, laying the foundation for success is tantamount, with grantees identifying access planning as their #1 imperative. Meanwhile, UP Organizations that have an Access Plan can focus on the education of staff and volunteers, work force development, and strategic partnerships that amplify the spectrum of (dis)ability in the arts, humanities, and sciences. And as Access becomes embedded as a system of equity in the UP Organizations, then the creative work begins with curatorial revisions, leadership models, know-before-you-go videos, task force development, multi-sensory tours, and multi-lingual programs. The possibilities are endless!

Also noteworthy this year, the UP Initiative is staking a distinct position in the development of equitable grant making at Mass Cultural Council. The Agency’s commitment to building equitable opportunities for individuals who are Deaf or identify as Disabled is being realized by the adaptation of the Innovation Fund, as well as centering the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as grant criteria within additional granting programs such as Festivals & Projects, Cultural District Investment Grants, and the Cultural Investment Portfolio.

Mass Cultural Council recognizes that Access is not a destination, but a journey. The ADA provides a foundation for cultural workers to think creatively, design intentionally, and continue to improve over time.

* All funding is subject to the annual State budget appropriation, recommendations of Mass Cultural Council’s Grants Committee, and the final approval of the Mass Cultural Council.

See the Funding List

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