Assessing Access

facilitated by
Julie Phelps

A science and technology scholar, a neuroscientist and a choreographer engage a discussion around the concept of access from their particular perspective and field of practice through responding to the same set of open-ended questions. Not intended as a panel of experts, but rather a set of personal perspectives side-by-side to provide a point of reflection and inspiration across distinct but interconnected schools of thoughts. What can we learn about our value systems related to access by measuring conceptual divergence and proximity from others? Can such comparison reveal previously opaque political and historical context around access as a concept and directive? 

I believe that those of us who position the arts to be a site of transformational experiences, personal development, and connection to community have a deep responsibility to engage the idea of access, asking how the art field may be reinforcing or disrupting harmful patterns of exclusion, inequity and homogenization.

Access has long been a concern in the arts field. Why is it important to have access to the arts? For me personally, engaging in the arts opened up planes of thinking and being that felt vitally urgent to my personal development, healing, and self-realization. While also sparking connections beyond my own frameworks, ability, and perspectives; art points to unlikely associations rather than reinforcing associations that stabilize my existing perspectives. Beyond this internal, personal impact, I believe the arts to be uniquely powerful in building community. In holding this belief, I therefore must insist on urgently exploring who has access to the arts, and how that access happens beyond base-level ADA requirements related to “accessibility” and economic affordability measures. How can we better understand the psychological, social, and cultural conditions required to truly invite and connect with people from more varied personal backgrounds in and through the arts? 

Julie Phelps