National Forum on Careers in the Arts for People With Disabilities

A national forum on Careers in the Arts for individuals with disabilities was convened at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. June 14-16, 1998. This effort grew out of a series of 1995-96 agreements that the National Endowment for the Arts developed with the Office of Special Education and the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Federal agencies jointly supported this initiative to convene the first-ever national forum on Careers in the Arts in recognition that vocational rehabilitation professionals need increased education concerning the wide variety of career opportunities in the arts and the arts as full time careers. Concurrently, arts administrators need increased awareness and education on hiring people with disabilities as well as the resources available. Further, artists and administrators with disabilities need information on career opportunities and resources available through the Rehabilitation Services Administration to assist their education and work.

This working forum was convened by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with coordination and facilitation by its subcontractor, Quest: Arts for Everyone, through a cooperative agreement with the Arts Endowment. The forum brought together 300 artists, arts administrators, rehabilitation professionals, arts service groups and others to: (1) look at state of the art with regard to educational and career opportunities in the arts for people with disabilities and their representation in policy-making; (2) identify obstacles and strategies to overcome them; and (3) develop recommendations to advance arts careers for people with disabilities.

Speakers included Phyllis Frelich, award-winning actress; John Kemp, executive director of Very Special Arts; Bob Lynch, president and CEO, Americans for the Arts; Ron Mace, architectural consultant for renovation of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall; and William Ivey, Chairman of the National Endowement for the Arts, as well as panel participants from Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Non-Traditional Casting Project, U.S. Department of Education, Social Security Admninistration, and Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels, jazz musicians Valerie Capers and Lisa Thorson, and actress Michelle Banks performed during the three-day forum.

The Careers in the Arts' Planning Committee met on September 21-23, 1997 at the Kennedy Center to help shape and develop the forum, providing valuable guidance on all aspects of the project. This distinguished group is composed of select leadership from the fields of the arts, rehabilitation and education.

The following agencies supported the forum:

  • John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • Rehabilitation Services Administration/U.S. Dept of Education
  • Administration on Developmental Disabilities/ U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
  • Social Security Administration/ Office of Disability and Income Security Programs

William Ivey's keynote address is now available on the website.

The Forum’s report, recommendations, transcripts from many of the Forum's speakers and panels, and the notes from the various breakout sessions are available at