An Open Letter to Senator Klobuchar Regarding Arts Accessibility

Dear Senator Klobuchar,

I am a disabled violinist and songwriter, and I can confidently say that the lack of accessible venues is the number one barrier I face when it comes to pursuing my career as a full-time touring artist. My choice of performance spaces is extremely limited because so few venues are accessible to both the patron and the artist. It takes hours of extra work for me to arrange for temporary ramps and other accommodations for my electric wheelchair… for every single gig I book. I am often forced to hold my events at nontraditional venues like churches because I cannot use the same mainstream (but inaccessible) venues utilized by my colleagues. 

According to the NEA’s Research on Art & Disability:  

  • In 2012, 23.3 percent of U.S. adults with disabilities (or 6.2 million people) attended a live performing arts event, 14 percent below the share of all U.S. adults who attended live concerts, plays, and dance performances (37.3 percent) in the same year.
  • Adults with disabilities are underrepresented among both performing arts and visual arts audiences. While adults with disabilities compose nearly 12 percent of the U.S. adult population, they make up just under seven percent of all adults attending performing arts events or visiting art museums or galleries.
  • Nontraditional art venues are attractive to adults with disabilities, who are just as likely as adults in general to attend an art exhibit or a live performing arts event if it takes place in a place of worship.
  • Adults with disabilities are just as likely as all Americans to create visual art and do creative writing. They are more likely than adults in general to create fiber arts such as weaving or quilting. 

Source: https://www.arts.gov/impact/research/arts-data-profile-series/adp-7

The above findings confirm what I have known my entire career. It’s not that disabled people are less artistic or talented – in fact, we create art just as much as nondisabled Americans – but we do not have access to the venues which would allow us to display our art publicly or attend art events in person.  The barrier to entry is just too high to be ignored any longer.

America can do better than this. While the ADA has long been an unfunded mandate, it doesn’t have to stay that way. We can invest our tax dollars into cultural institutions so that they are no longer de facto discriminating against disabled Americans due to lack of access. 

As a lifelong Minnesotan, I am deeply grateful for your advocacy with the Save Our Stages Act. It will be instrumental in sustaining our venues, and you led the way in making it happen – a huge first step during unprecedented times. I know you care about the rich cultural landscape of America, and I am confident that you’d want it to be more welcoming to disabled artists going forward. So now I am asking you to prioritize arts accessibility in relief efforts so that the future of our creative culture can more truly reflect the diverse experiences of our great nation.  

As you know, the Americans with Disabilities Act “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.”  Not enough of our buildings and businesses met even minimum ADA requirements, and the idea that a building’s age exempts it from having to comply is a prevalent myth in communities and among organizational leadership.   

Many businesses and creative venues want to get their businesses up to code. But these venues face a paucity of financial resources and a lack of political will to make this happen. That can change – and the time is now. 

With still a bit more time before venues get up to full capacity and shows begin to open again, we have a window in which we can pursue the full accessibility of our venues. This is not just accessibility for audiences alone. We need to ensure the spaces are entirely accessible for audiences, staff, and artists – from the doors to the stages. The resources available for COVID-related building renovations such as ventilation open a door, literally, to combine construction efforts and pair this timely work.   

I am asking for leadership and action from you on fast-tracking funding opportunities for organizations and businesses to make these long-overdue updates in critical buildings throughout our state. With a more focused roll-out of these relief efforts to provide resources to buildings and businesses to get up to code, I believe we can make progress here, and truly “build back better” – for everyone. 

Sincerely,  

Gaelynn Lea
Musician, Public Speaker & Disability Rights Advocate
Winner of NPR Music’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest

P.S. Please take a listen to my piece on Moth Radio Hour about this very subject, called “Accessibility is the New Punk Rock”… Listen here!

P.P.S. Want to make your voice heard? Add your name at the bottom of this open letter, or write / send your own… Sign the letter today!

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