By Tiffany Razzano
For 38 years, Arts4All Florida’s staff has championed arts education and cultural experiences for and by people with disabilities throughout the state. Through the decades, the not-for-profit organization’s inclusive programming has ranged from youth camps and arts education in schools, Department of Juvenile Justice facilities, and community centers to artist residencies and public performances. In recent years, the organization, which was founded as a VSA state affiliate and rebranded as Arts4All Florida in 2019, added a new component to its offerings: a training program for Florida’s arts centers, theaters, museums, cultural organizations and other venues. “We recognized how important it was for us to connect with artistic organizations and train their employees, docents and volunteers on how to be fully accessible, not just physically accessible, but also warm and welcoming,” says Wendy Finklea, director of programming. These half-day workshops provide arts organizations with the tools they need to develop and expand inclusive programming. Training can be tweaked based on the needs of the organization, she adds. “Depending on the type of cultural center, we can tailor the training. The needs of a museum are much different from the needs of a theater.”
Accessibility and inclusiveness at these cultural destinations not only improve the quality of life for the Tampa Bay area’s permanent residents, but also create a better experience for vacationers and short-term residents. “Tourism is so important to our state. You see arts and culture programming for adults increasing during the winter because of all the visitors. They are visiting our area and they have disposable income. They want to visit our museums and other cultural organizations,” Finklea says. Many of these visitors are “aging Americans” who are visually or hearing impaired, she adds. “That’s a huge part of our population.” Hospitality and creative industry executives who have an awareness about what guests of different abilities are looking for when they travel can build and maintain loyal customers.
As part of last year’s rebranding, Arts4All launched “a really robust website.” With information about events and programming offered for individuals with all abilities, Finklea hopes hotel concierges and staff at cultural centers utilize the resource. “We are trying to inform and educate on all of the arts options that are out there,” she says. “Our website is a very informative, very comprehensive guide for people looking for opportunities for people with special needs.”