Chairman's Corner: July 23, 2020

Jo Reed: I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.

Sunday, July 26th, marks the 30th Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disability Act, or ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. It was a great civil rights victory for Americans with Disabilities and the nation.  Here's Mary Anne to talk about some of the work the Arts Endowment has done to provide arts opportunities to people with disabilities. Hi, Mary Anne.

Mary Anne Carter:  Hi, Jo, and thanks so much. I think this is such a great topic to discuss. I want to give a little historic perspective here. There was a precursor to the ADA and it was the Rehabilitation Act, which became law in 1979, and it was the first Federal Civil Rights law to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. And you know, I take such great pride in the National Endowment for the Arts, and even back then the Arts Endowment was the first small Federal Agency to implement the regulations laid out in the Rehabilitation Act. And not unusual for the Agency. And through the years, the Agency has really been at the forefront of implementing different changes, and we've also funded so many different organizations that support the accessibility of their programs and performances. And so I just want to walk through a few examples.

Jo Reed:  Yes, please do.

Mary Anne Carter:  One would be the Theater Development Fund. It's a New York City based grantee that promotes inclusion in the performing arts through sign language interpretation, captioning, and autism-friendly performances. And you know, just a couple other examples, although we have so many, Creative Growth in Oakland, California. They provide workshops and exhibits featuring artwork by people with disabilities. The Professional Flair Dancing Wheels Company, a Cleveland Ohio based professional dance company, featuring dancers with and without disabilities. And Deaf West Theater in Los Angeles that employs both deaf and hearing actors in their productions. And Deaf West Theater was supported in its production of Big River and Spring Awakening by the National Endowment for the Arts. And those transferred to Broadway, where critics and audiences raved!

Jo Reed:  They were both wonderful!

Mary Anne Carter:  They were! They were. And one of the most wonderful outcomes of the Agency's approach, first in training arts organizations to become broadly accessible, and then funding artistic works by and for those with disabilities, is that more people who thought they could never have a career in the arts see that they absolutely can!

Jo Reed:    I think our support of the revival of Oklahoma! and the part that Ali Stroker played as Ado Annie is a great illustration of that!

Mary Anne Carter:  Oh, I love that story! And I was so privileged to be able to go see it. That production of Oklahoma! at Saint Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn-- as you said, featured Ali Stroker-- and she sang her heart out from her wheelchair as "The Girl Who Can't Say No," and went on to win the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, the first wheelchair user ever to receive a Tony.

Jo Reed:   And about that time too!  But the Endowment also works in behind the scenes arenas, calling convenings, creating support materials to help artists with disabilities navigate what's often a rocky terrain.

Mary Anne Carter:  That's right, Jo. In 2016, the Arts Endowment hosted a convening of more than 50 artists, administrators, academics and funders to discuss barriers and opportunities for deaf theater artists. And a report on that discussion is on our website. Then in the Fall, we'll be launching a Toolkit we developed with Art Beyond Sight that will help talented artists and other arts workers seeking careers in the arts. And finally to bring us back to our present moment, and one of the last things I want to point out, is our recent guide to virtual accessibility. It's a great resource with a long name-- we are the Federal government <laughter>-- it's called Resources to Help Ensure Accessibility of Your Virtual Event for People with Disabilities. And it includes guidance on streaming performances and events, presenting virtual exhibitions and collections, and conducting video conference webinars and online learning. And there's so much we could talk about regarding what has been done, what is being done, and what is-- what everyone is doing to continue making the arts more accessible, but we can never forget that much remains to be done, and here at the National Endowment for the Arts, we're committed to doing that work.

Jo Reed:  Mary Anne, thank you!

Mary Anne Carter:  Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed:  That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The arts endowment’s recent guide to virtual accessibility can be found on our Covid resource page at And to mark the 30th anniversary of the ADA, a group of artists, disability advocates, disability rights leaders, and others created a virtual streaming celebration, which will be launched tonight Thursday, July 23 at 7pm ET. Mary Anne and Director of Accessibility Beth Bienvenu will be on hand to celebrate. You can register

I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.

Marking the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the chairman discusses Arts Endowment programs supporting people with disabilities.