Disability Artistry at BAX
A constellation of projects led by disabled artists creates a growing framework for disability, access, and artistry at BAX. A multi-prong, artist-led collection of intersectional programs includes ROTATIONS, directed by Yo-Yo Lin and Pelenakeke Brown, a collaborative residency with the CUNY Dance Initiative at Brooklyn College and inaugural recipient Anna Gichan, a pilot of DREAM (Disability, Radicality, Embodiment, and Access for Makers) developed by the artist Perel, and an Access Artistry Conversation series designed in consultation with Kevin Gotkin.
Together, these projects build a platform for disability artistry that serves both the organizational culture, including BAX staff and its artist community, as well as the broader field of contemporary dance and performing arts. These interlocking programs formulate a framework for accountability and shared stewardship. They build momentum and expertise about disability access and artistry, a key dimension to sustainable organizing that too often is siloed among only those spearheading the work.
Access, Artistry and Disability Conversation Series
Across the cultural sector, institutions are having very similar conversations about access and disability. Often disability initiatives are activated in response to a particular grant, only to disappear when funding is no longer available, or dissolve when a key staff member moves on from an organization. This is sapping the momentum that would be possible with regular convenings for organizations and their staff to share ideas and incubate initiatives. A higher level of communication and commitment from the field is sorely missing and urgently desired.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many access efforts by arts organizations. When we were all forced to close our physical doors in 2020, many organizations pivoted to online platforms and began to integrate access features for blind, low vision, Deaf, and hard of hearing artists and families into the fabric of the programming, web design, and user portals, some for the first time.
There is a shared recognition that access measures are not temporary needs: we must adjust as a field to invest and incorporate accessibility in thoughtful, sustainable, and expedient ways so that we can more effectively serve our students, audiences, and artists. How can we collectively bring equity and access lenses to every decision we make across policy and programming, and cross-institutional practice in order to uphold field-wide respect for artists?
We collected resources and created a Framing Disability Justice site for our cohort.
To this end, BAX worked to garner funding from The New York Community Trust in service of disability access practices for the sector–to provide opportunities for collective growth across the field, shared learning circles, skill sharing sessions, and analysis of effective and less than ideal approaches. This constellation of efforts will help build an organizational culture within the broader field of contemporary dance, theater and performing arts. Together, we can build momentum and expertise about disability access and artistry, a key dimension to sustainable organizing that too often remains on a loop of the introductory concepts, siloed among only those spearheading the work.
With lead designer and curator, Kevin Gotkin, this project will include a framework for ongoing staff training in access practices, incubation of sector-wide initiatives to support Disability Justice that go beyond the repetition of introductory programming. A series of 12 learning circles and skill sharing sessions, over the course of 18 months, will build momentum in engagement and organizing to sustain and advance the expertise about disability artistry, access, and activism in the arts world. These efforts will impact entire organizations – training frontline staff to meet the needs of audiences, training programmers to be attuned to the challenges that disabled artists have in making work, honing inclusive marketing practices, training Artistic and Executive Directors to consider access from the onset of all decisions. It is not only the institution-wide learning, but sector-wide learning that will lead to a desired culture shift.
This series is an evolving process that will grow as we collectively learn and discover.