Access to an Art Filled and Healthy Life

June 3, 2013

Think about the last time you got lost in a painting, a book, or a performance—be it theater, dance or music.  Those moments are characterized by what some might call a “zen” state of mind, or what may be defined as “a state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind.” Your heartbeat slows down from a frenetic pace, your mind clears, or perhaps the reverse occurs and you are energized, maybe even motivated and repurposed.  In any case, you are transformed.  The arts, in all its forms, can do that to you!

In New Jersey, there are two projects, now working collaboratively, that bring transformative cultural experiences of mind and body to all audiences and strengthen the link between the arts and healing and wellness.  The Cultural Access Network works to connect people to the arts regardless of physical ability, and the Alliance for Arts & Health NJ connects artists, arts professionals, and those who provide health and wellness services.  Both projects strive to assure that those incomparable transformative cultural experiences are accessible to all in a variety of settings.

Arts Access at Matheny School, Full Circle 2011

The Cultural Access Network Project, (CANP) cosponsored by the NJ Theatre Alliance and the NJ State Council on the Arts, and in existence since 1992, provides a wide range of services and programs to assist theatres and cultural organizations in making their programs and facilities accessible to seniors and people with disabilities. CANP offers sensitivity training for arts professionals that helps maximize artistic experiences for ALL audiences and hosts an annual awards ceremony that recognizes model programs and services for people with disabilities.  The CANP provides assistance with audio description for visually impaired persons, sign interpretation and open captioning for people with hearing disabilities, and referrals for architects and human resources needed to comply with the Americans for Disabilities (ADA) Act.

The Alliance for Arts & Health NJ (AAHNJ), co sponsored by the ArtPride NJ Foundation and the NJ State Council on the Arts, is a newer project that envisions a healthier New Jersey through the arts and engages a network of members to educate, advocate and advance best practices in arts and health.  A network of the Global Alliance for Arts & Health, AAHNJ is an outgrowth of Arts Plan NJ and held its first convening in 2010 that brought together over 80 artists, arts therapists, arts administrators, health care administrators, medical professionals and providers of services to special populations such as the aging, youth and people with disabilities. Today it is engaged in not only developing that network, but gaining a better understanding of how the arts are integrated into healthcare environments throughout New Jersey–from the use of art by medical professionals to the use of the arts in healthy design that promotes healing.

Both projects join forces on June 21 at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ for the 5th Annual Cultural Access Network Awards Luncheon. A free event (with required pre-registration), the luncheon will honor excellence in opening doors and making culture accessible to all. During an open space convening participants will address this question: “How can New Jersey strengthen its leadership position in Cultural Access and Arts and Health initiatives through Innovation and Collaboration?” The event is certain to provide a platform for all who are interested in advancing the arts as a powerful transformative tool that is experienced in cultural institutions and other environments as a pathway to healing and wellness.  Stay tuned for the next chapter of how these two projects collaborate, and consider being part of the process by joining the convening and luncheon on June 21!

Images courtesy of ArtPride

Ann Marie Miller is the Executive Director of ArtPride, the premier arts advocacy organization in New Jersey, and a regular contributor to the Dodge blog.