Artistic Programming for Children on the Autism Spectrum

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Lincoln Center Education’s 2018 Festival

Russell Granet, Executive Vice President of Lincoln Center Education (LCE), Community, and International, announced today the inaugural Big Umbrella Festival – the world’s first month-long festival dedicated to arts programs for children on the autism spectrum and their families, set to launch during Autism Awareness Month in April 2018. The festival is an outgrowth of Lincoln Center Education’s longtime commitment to making art accessible in all forms to diverse audiences. Thoughtfully curated with their unique needs in mind, Big Umbrella’s core objective is to enrich the lives of children on the autism spectrum through inclusive art that engages, educates, and inspires.

Spanning April 9 to May 6, 2018, the festival will include three original interactive theater productions presented both at local schools and on the Lincoln Center campus, as well as a symposium and professional development opportunities for artists, arts professionals, and presenters, with the aim of bringing the community together around the topic of neurodiversity.

“We believe the arts can be transformational and that every child should have access to a quality arts education,” said Granet. “Our past performances for children on the autism spectrum have made a notable positive impact on our young audiences, and we hope Big Umbrella will be a safe space where they can continue to find and create lasting meaning through tailored programs.”

In 2013, LCE became the first major cultural institution to commission an original work for this audience, titled Up and Away. While some institutions have offered sensory-friendly programming or adapted versions of existing works, Up and Away’s model was ground-breaking because it was created specially for an audience on the autism spectrum across all production aspects: script, design, and experience. Featuring an immersive 360-degree installation design, the experience included pre-show preparation materials, one-to-one interaction with actors, and an adjacent quiet room, among other features. This month, Lincoln Center is continuing this trailblazing model with a second original commission, titled Campfire, also from local Trusty Sidekick Theater Company – one of three theater companies who will participate in 2018’s Big Umbrella Festival. Joining Trusty Sidekick will be U.K.- based Oily Cart (In a Pickle) and Australian Sensorium (Oddysea), whose collaborative methodologies and international reach reflect the synergic mission of Big Umbrella.

“Lincoln Center’s Big Umbrella Festival will feature groundbreaking, high-quality theater designed specifically for young people on the autism spectrum and their families. The multi-sensory experience is a perfect event to time with Autism Awareness Month,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Disability Services. “I look forward to experiencing the festival, which builds on the great success of Lincoln Center’s original work, Up and Away, and its second original commission, Campfire. These important works demonstrate Lincoln Center’s deep and longstanding commitment to making the arts more accessible to young audiences with special needs.”

LCE is a global leader in arts education and advocacy, and is the education cornerstone of Lincoln Center, the world’s largest performing arts complex. LCE is committed to enriching the lives of students, educators, and lifelong learners by providing opportunities for engagement with the highest-quality arts on the stage, in the classroom, via digital platforms, and within the community. This effort was recognized last year by the New York City Council, which officially named March “Lincoln Center Education Month” in honor of its 40 years of outstanding and innovative work in the community.

Lincoln Center has become a leading force in using new media and technology to reach and inspire a wider and global audience. Reaching audiences where they are—physically and digitally—has become a cornerstone of making the performing arts more accessible to New Yorkers and beyond.