Project Onward: Accessibility & Museum Programming

If you haven’t stumbled upon Jessica Naudziunas’ blog post on NPR, How to Make Museums More Inviting For Kids With Autism, it’s a must read. The article, which highlights the Please Touch Museum’s Play Without Boundaries Initiative, reminded me of Project Onward, an organization dedicated to supporting the development of artists with mental and developmental disabilities.

Picture 1

Logo credit: Project Onward

The project, which is based out of the Chicago Cultural Center, includes a studio and gallery space where artists are given the opportunity to create art, connect with other artists, and inspire change in the art world. In fact, part of their mission is “to inspire change by using art to promote empathy and reduce the stigma of mental illness and developmental disabilities; to improve the self-image of artists through the social and economic value of their work; and to cultivate new audiences in the art market by increasing awareness of, and demand for, artwork created by people with disabilities.”


Photo taken by author

I accidentally wandered into one of Project Onward’s gallery spaces (pictured above) and workshop area while I was exploring the Chicago Cultural Center last week. Artwork by the artists are available for sale in the gallery, or you can attend a “Portrait Slam” that features multiple artists creating portraits for patrons young and old. This gives artists a chance to socialize with the public, something that is rare for adults with disabilities

Many initiatives geared towards more inclusive museum and art experiences for visitors with special needs are gaining popularity throughout the country. Some museums are creating apps so that families with autistic children can map their routes before visiting the museum. Other smaller institutions are integrating special hours for a family or groups of families to get an exclusive “preview” of the museum while it is quiet. A few other access initiatives to check out include the Intrepid’s Access Family Programs, the Art Access project at the Queens Museum of Art, and SPARK! at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Have you run across any great access programming in the museum and non-profit world? Share your experiences in the comment section below.



About catebay

Informal educator working in the world of art. Interests in public programming and community advocacy. Loves learning about people, collecting blue mason jars, and consuming Swedish fish.
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