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What is up with the Universal Participation Initiative?

Charles G. Baldwin, Program Officer

photo of half a dozen people sitting around a table listening to a speaker who is not in the frame
Cast and creative team at Lyric Stage of Boston (FY23 Innovation Fund grant recipient) gather to begin rehearsals for Assassins.

In January, the Agency awarded UP Designated Cultural Organizations $475,000 through our new approach to the Universal Participation Innovation Fund. Over the course of their five-year designation, UP Designated Organizations are expected to plan, review, implement, assess, and adapt equitable systems for building accessible, sustainable places, programs, and policies. Innovation Fund grants are designed to help mitigate risk and inspire creative approaches to barrier removal.

The recipients of the FY23 investment illustrated the success and commitment to the work of creating access. UP Designated Organizations have reported numerous ways they are innovating around access including:

  • Expanding staff training
  • Developing accessible websites
  • Understanding and providing resources for people who identify as neuro-diverse
  • Centering the lived experiences of people with disabilities to enhance the accessibility of facility, programmatic, educational, and operational systems

The more than 90 organizations with UP Designation have become a control group for Mass Cultural Council to measure the impact of multi-year funding. The Innovation Fund is an organizational investment allowing staff to determine priorities and direct a plan of action. Organizations are expected to build or enhance accessible systems that amplify an institution’s vision of inclusion, that educates staff and peers on best and most effective practices, and that is participating with the community to develop accommodating resources and designing new methods for creating access.

To ensure the Agency achieves the same goals we have for our constituents, Mass Cultural Council is working with consultants to devise a comprehensive Disability Equity Plan. This plan will aim to respond to the needs of people with disabilities within the creative sector, provide the tools and resources for cultural organizations to enact access, and review internal Agency policies and practices to recommend action steps for improving access to our grants and services. Look for the Disability Equity Plan to be shared in the new year.

A second year of Innovation Fund grants will be provided in FY24. The application opens September 6, 2023 and the Agency looks forward to UP Designated Organizations deepening the principles of Access and uplifting the aspirations of Equity.

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