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Backstage tour of Boston Ballet's Nutcracker. Image: Liza Voll Photography

Innovation and Learning Network

Application Process

Part of the Universal Participation (UP) Initiative, the Innovation Learning Network (ILN) brings together 10-12 diverse organizations for peer learning sessions that include workshops focused on Universal Design and accessibility practices. The key objective of the ILN is to increase public participation in the arts, humanities, and interpretive sciences by activating a disability lens on institutional systems of community engagement, policy development, and inclusive design.

For FY21, the ILN will be virtual and follow current Massachusetts public health protocols.

How to Apply

  1. Read the program guidelines (below).


  2. Log in using your organization’s username/password or create an organizational profile to access the online application. Complete and submit the online application, which includes the Board Approved Organizational Resolution, by January 29, 2021 at 11:59pm (ET).

Questions? Contact Charles G. Baldwin, Program Officer, at 617-858-2739.

Program Guidelines


In 2021, the UP ILN workshops and peer sessions will occur from March through May and participation will be virtual. Throughout the ILN, participants will:

  • Engage in 45+ hours of online learning covering several topics including staff training, marketing strategies, emergency preparedness, design for learning, and logic models.
  • Receive a user/expert* program review from the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) and a website audit from the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM).
  • Participate in panel discussions, peer round tables, and staff meetings to contribute to strengthening the community of practice.
  • Develop an Access Project.
  • Receive a stipend of $3,000 to offset staff time.

Upon successfully completing ILN, the participating organizations receive UP Designation and may apply for UP grant opportunities, including the Innovation Fund and the LEAD stipend. UP Designated organizations can also be nominated for the UP Award.

*A user/expert is defined as a person with a functional limitation or disability who has developed natural expertise navigating the challenges of our physical, information, and/or communication environments.


To participate in the UP Innovative Learning Network, organizations must:

  • Offer public programming in the arts, humanities, or interpretive sciences.
  • Be legally recognized as a Massachusetts 501(c)3 non-profit organization in good standing with the Commonwealth.
  • Submit a current organizational resolution, approved by the applicant’s governing board, stating a commitment to learn, take action, and embrace inclusion and access as core organizational values.
  • In the event, that the governing board does not meet before the application deadline, please provide the board meeting’s date where the resolution will be presented for approval.
  • Commit to fully participate in the Innovative Learning Network, as outlined under the participation requirements below and described in the ILN syllabus.

Participation Requirements

  • Board Participation: A board member should attend the Innovation and Learning Network kick-off reception and the final session presentation.
  • Staff Time: Two representatives of the organization are expected to participate in all program activities, as outlined in the ILN schedule. Based on the topic, other representatives may participate in the workshops most relevant to their jobs. Representatives may be staff, volunteers, or board members. These participants will register for the workshops in advance.
  • Class Time: Attendees of the workshops are expected to participate fully with instructors and other students.
  • Shared Learning: Participants in the sessions are encouraged to share learning and resources with the staff of the institution regularly. Upon completing the user/expert program review and NCAM web audit; the staff, volunteers, and representatives should determine strengths and challenges to set institutional priorities.
  • Access Project: From this team discussion, a plan or project is identified and developed. The final workshop includes a presentation on this project; the process, actions, and outcomes.
  • Reporting: An ILN report must be completed so that the Mass Cultural Council can continue to measure the collective impact of the Universal Participation Initiative.

FY21 Innovation Learning Network Syllabus


  • UP Office Hours: An informal curated conversation followed by an open forum. Tuesdays 9-10am, February 23 through May 18, 2021.
  • Peer Sessions: Shared learning, panel discussions, and artist led workshops. Thursdays 2:30-4pm, March 4 to April 29, 2021.


  • Kick off Reception: Monday, February 22, 4:30-6pm.


  • Online Learning: Partners for Youth with Disabilities  online learning module, which participants do individually on their own schedule (27 hours total over two months).
  • User/Expert Program Review: Each ILN organization receives a program review. User/Experts come from the UP partnership with the Institute for Human-Centered Design. Additional user/experts from your own community should be recruited to participate in the program review as well (ongoing).
  • Website Audit: The National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH will provide an initial audit of participants’ websites and offer recommendations for improvements.


  • Online Learning: Partners for Youth with Disabilities online learning module, which participants do individually on their own schedule (27 hours total over two months).
  • User/Expert Program Review Findings: Meeting to go over the findings of the review, 90 minutes.
  • Project Planning & Development: With data from the program review and the website audit, organizational staff should convene to determine strengths and challenges and identify policies and actions to implement an Access Project.


  • Final Project Presentations: During the month of May, participating organizations will be expected to deliver a 10-minute presentation on their Access Project and their implementation strategies. Board attendance expected.


  • Final Report: The final report will entail a 1–2-page self-evaluation, short narrative questions, results to an all-staff internal survey, and results to a brief visitor survey (Survey questions are provided by Mass Cultural Council.)

Review Process

A panel of Mass Cultural Council staff will review complete applications. Up to 10 organizations will be recommended to the Mass Cultural Council’s Executive Leadership for final approval based on the following:

  • The application demonstrates evidence of the organization’s commitment to learn, take action, and embrace inclusion as a core organizational value.
  • The application makes a compelling case that the organization:
    • Board members, staff, and volunteers are invested in the UP vision and will be able to commit the time and staff resources necessary to participate.
    • Has the capacity, and is prepared to, implement the Access Project they will develop during the ILN.
  • Applications ensure geographical diversity and diversity in the discipline and organizational size/type represented.


To offset the cost of staff time, Mass Cultural Council provides ILN organizations with a stipend of $3,000.

Granting Requirements

Reporting Requirements
To measure the collective impact of the UP Initiative and to continue to improve the program through participant feedback, a final report on the Access Project is required before the end of the calendar year. After receiving the UP Designation, organizations are required to submit reports annually.

Length of Designation
UP Designation is valid for five (5) consecutive years. Organizations must complete a new application and submit a new resolution, approved by the current governing board. The new organizational resolution must express the organization’s continued commitment to the principles of the Universal Participation Initiative.

Failure to Meet Requirements
An organization selected to participate in an Innovation Learning Network that fails to meet its obligations as a participant will lose its UP Designation and may forfeit its participation stipend. Organizations that do not meet the annual report requirement will lose their UP Designation.

Mass Cultural Council also reserves the right to revoke UP Designation in cases where it has concerns that an organization no longer represents the ideals of the Universal Participation Program. In such cases, Mass Cultural Council will first communicate its concerns to the organization and allow the organization the opportunity to respond and/or address Mass Cultural Council’s concerns in order to maintain its status. If an organization does not address Mass Cultural Council’s concerns, it will lose its UP Designation.

Accessibility and Non-Discrimination Policies
Mass Cultural Council is committed to ensuring that all personnel and service programs, policies, and practices will be formulated and conducted in a manner which will ensure equal access for all people and prevent discrimination not only as a matter of law but also as a policy designed to encourage the participation of all segments of the Commonwealth’s population in Mass Cultural Council programs and services.

Mass Cultural Council is happy to offer applicants/grantees alternative formats, auxiliary aids, and services necessary so that any individual can participate in the Mass Cultural Council’s programs and services. Contact our staff for help.

Mass Cultural Council is dedicated to creating a workplace, programs, and services that welcome, respect, and value people of all races, color, age, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religions, creeds, ancestry, national origin, disability, and veteran status. Mass Cultural Council will not fund any organization or program that discriminates on the basis of these attributes. We strive to reflect diversity in all activities, programs, and services removing any barriers to accessibility. Mass Cultural Council and its grantees are expected to be in compliance with:

Mass Cultural Council’s grantees sign a contract (see contract requirements) certifying that they will comply with ADA and Section 504. Mass Cultural Council aims to help grantees understand their obligations and recognize the opportunities that increasing access can support both the public and the grantee. Additional information about Mass Cultural Council’s Accessibility Requirements and Compliance Tools for Grantees are located in our Access Policy.

Reconsideration Policy
An applicant may request for the reconsideration of a Mass Cultural Council decision on their application if the applicant can demonstrate that Mass Cultural Council failed to follow published application and review procedures. Dissatisfaction with the results of a review does not constitute grounds for reconsideration.

The first step in the reconsideration process is to consult with the appropriate Program Staff to discuss the review process that concluded in Mass Cultural Council’s decision. If the applicant wishes to pursue a reconsideration, a request must be sent to Mass Cultural Council’s Executive Director, in writing, within 30 days of the Mass Cultural Council’s notification to the applicant of its decision.

Application Instructions

Applicants are expected to respond to the six narrative questions about the organization, upload an organizational resolution approved by the applicant’s governing board, and submit a testimonial statement

The ILN narrative questions asks that applicants share:

  • Examples of your organization’s commitment to learn, take action, and embrace inclusion.
  • Current strengths of your organization regarding access, inclusion, or universal design practices.
  • Current challenges of your organization regarding access, inclusion, or universal design practices.
  • Why does your organization wish to participate in the UP Innovation and Learning Network (ILN)?
  • Description of board, staff, and volunteer engagement in proposed ILN participation.
  • Description of strategies to maintain institutional operations while participating in the Innovation and Learning Network and implement the Access Plan.

Organizational Resolution

The organizational resolution, approved by the applicant’s governing board, must address the organization’s current commitment to learn, take action, and embrace inclusion and access as core organizational values. In the event the governing does not meet prior to the application deadline, applicants are asked to specify the date upon which the board intends to meet and take up the vote.

Application and Grant Timeline

Application Deadline: January 29, 2021 11:59pm (ET)

Notification: February 2021

ILN Kick-off: February 2021

Final Reporting Deadline: September 30, 2021


Contact Charles G. Baldwin, Program Officer, at 617-858-2739.

Proceed to the Online Application

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