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Cultural Access Network Awards to be presented Thursday

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Winners include Two River Theater, Playwrights Theatre, Grounds For Sculpture and Thomas E. Shaw-Gardner

On June 19th, at the sixth annual Cultural Access Network Awards, three organizations and one individual will be honored for their leadership, innovation, and commitment to increasing access to the arts for people with disabilities. The Awards are offered annually by the Cultural Access Network Project, cosponsored by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State; for the fifth year in a row, the event will be held at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.

“The State Arts Council believes that accessibility to the arts is a fundamental right for all people,” said Nicholas Paleologos, Executive Director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. “We work to ensure that access is a priority in many different ways, including setting high standards for access in our grant making programs, and through our longtime partnership with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance to support the award-winning Cultural Access Network Project."

Attended by leaders in the state’s arts and cultural community, the Cultural Access Network Awards is a day long event that begins with a networking breakfast and group sessions to support the efforts of cultural institutions in making their programming accessible for everyone.

Beth M. Bienvenu PhD., the Director of the Office of Accessibility at the National Endowment for the Arts will be a feature guest – providing opening remarks for the day. Ms. Beinvenu manages the NEA’s technical assistance and advocacy work, providing guidance and support to state arts agency staff and professionals working in the fields of arts access, creativity and aging, arts and health, universal design and arts in corrections.

The celebratory event will also feature a performance by internet sensation Jodi DiPiazza. Currently a 12 year old student, Jodi performed a duet with Katy Perry on “The Night of Too Many Stars” – a fundraiser for autism education, and her song “Heroes of Autism” as used in conjunction with a fundraiser for Autism Speaks. Jodi is a 5th grade student enrolled in public school as well as the Alpine Learning Group.

Awards will be presented to individuals and organizations nominated by the community, and evaluated by a panel of independent judges. Each organization receives a cash award to be used to support and further their innovative access and outreach programming.

“Since the Cultural Access Network Project was founded, my colleagues and I have been so impressed by the great strides the members of New Jersey’s cultural community have made in this area,” said John McEwen, Executive Director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the Founder and Chairman of the Cultural Access Network Project. “The honorees at this year’s Cultural Access Network Awards have each operated with the belief that their offerings should reach the greatest number of people regardless of ability, economic constraints, or geographic limitations, and they are all doing such meaningful work. We hope they inspire other organizations to develop creative programs and partnerships that will provide more opportunities for all of the state’s residents to enjoy its cultural treasures.”

Two Riv extTwo River Theater of Red Bank will receive this year’s Leadership Award for their work with Google to create a “walkable” virtual tour of the theater’s facility. The tours lives on Google Maps and is embedded onto the Two River Theater website. This virtual tour, fully accessible to the public, provides an additional level of support and benefit for patrons who use wheelchairs or require other assistance by allowing them to view the space in detail in advance of their visit.

“We are honored to receive the 2014 Leadership Award,” says Michael Hurst, Managing Director of Two River Theater. “We are grateful to the Cultural Access Network Project for recognizing the virtual tour of our facility; we are proud to be one of the first theaters in our area to implement this, and are hopeful that it will soon become a standard component of all accessibility programs.”

John PietrowskiTwo Innovator Awards will be presented. One will be given to Playwrights Theatre of Madison for a program developed for the New Jersey Special Olympics for the 2014 Special Olympic USA Games. Playwrights Theatre played a large role in volunteer training by commissioning a script from a New Jersey playwright – cast with New Jersey actors and Olympics athletes who performed the piece six times at five different training venues. This pioneering project was also filmed, and is now being used for smaller Special Olympic training sessions.

“We are very honored to receive the Cultural Access Network Innovator Award this year,” says Playwrights Theatre’s Artist Director John Pietrowski (photo above), “It’s a wonderful recognition of the extensive work we’ve been doing, and we feel this recognition will assist us in expanding and deepening our programming.”

Also receiving an Innovator Award will be Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) and Enable Inc. for their collaborative initiative that provided Enable’s participants with on-site art-making workshops at GFS. Enable is a non-profit which supports individuals with disabilities to live full and independent lives. The Enabling Creativity initiative provided monthly workshops over a period of four months; participants not only learned how to appreciate contemporary sculpture and other forms of art, but also built a positive self-image through inclusivity.

"Grounds For Sculpture's staff was able to develop relationships with individuals from Enable, Inc. and see them become more expressive through their artwork; that alone was a powerful and rewarding experience," said Cassandra Demski, GFS’s Curator of Education. "Receiving the Innovator Award makes it even more thrilling as it will bring attention to the program."

The Champion Award is being given to Thomas Shaw-Gardner in recognition of his tireless work on behalf of persons with disabilities. Shaw-Gardner is the Director for the Mercer County Office for the Disabled and Supervisor of a centralized contract unit for the Department of Human Services. Mr. Shaw-Gardner has served on several Americans with Disabilities (ADA) State of New Jersey Task Forces for Departments of Labor, Health and Senior Services, Human Services and Personnel. Mr. Shaw-Gardner currently directs programs providing services to people with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, the elderly, and children and youth. He has been a member of the Cultural Access Network Project – a co-sponsored project of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, as well as consultant to the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission for a number of years. He has served as Treasurer for the NJ Association of County Disability Services, Inc. for 10 years, and Chairperson for the NJ Coalition on Disabilities and Addictions since 2004.

The Cultural Access Network Awards are an annual event offered by the Cultural Access Network Project, which is a cosponsored project of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. This event is made possible in part by The Wallerstein Foundation for Geriatric Life Improvement and Fund for the New Jersey Blind.

Since its inception in 1994, the Cultural Access Network Project has provided service to the state’s cultural community to assist them as they make their facilities and programs more accessible to people with disabilities. Training sessions, workshops, and conferences align with information and tools available on the Alliance’s website http://njtheatrealliance.org/access. Patrons can also find all-inclusive listings of accessible cultural events statewide.

The innovative programs and services of the Cultural Access Network Project have earned national recognition and framed New Jersey as a model among their peers in the cultural access field.

The work of the Cultural Access Network Project and access services is supported by Fund for New Jersey Blind; The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson, Kessler Foundation, National Endownment for the Arts, New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, and The Wallerstein Foundation for Geriatric Life Improvement.

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