Artists with Disabilities on Creating an Equitable, Accessible Tomorrow

Saturday, June 16, 3:00 pm - 4:15 pm

There is a large gulf between seats and stages. Accessibility for audiences is becoming a hot topic, but targeted resources, support, professional development, and performing/exhibiting opportunities for artists with disabilities are relatively rare. In this session, artists speak about how they made inroads in a challenging environment and how they (and we) are paving and can continue to pave the way for artists with disabilities.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand public programming strategies to raise awareness of disability culture.
  2. Learn directly from the experience of artists with disabilities about their needs and goals.
  3. Explore how making accessibility a priority creates better experiences for people both with and without disabilities.



John McEwen
Executive Director
New Jersey Theatre Alliance
Morriostown, New Jersey

John McEwen serves as the Executive Director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, a service organization for the state’s 33 professional theatres. 

Prior to the Alliance, John served as Vice President for Development of the New Jersey Network Foundation where he was responsible for a $7 million annual fund.  Prior to joining NJN, John served as the Director of Development for Paper Mill Playhouse where he implemented the theatre’s award-winning access services and the Adopt-A-School Project, and was responsible for raising $3.5 million for the annul fund, strategic planning and board development.

John is the founder and Chairman of the Cultural Access Network Project, a program of New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts that assists the state’s cultural organizations as they programs and services accessible to individuals of all abilities. John serves as a trustee for ArtPRIDE New Jersey, Montclair State University’s College of the Arts, and the Fund for the New Jersey Blind.   

John’s awards and achievements include the first Excellence in Accessibility Leadership Award from the Christopher Reeves Paralysis Foundation and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Judith Smith
Founder/Artistic Director Emerita
AXIS Dance Company
Oakland, California

Judith Smith, Founder and Artistic Director Emerita of AXIS Dance Company, is one of the nation's driving forces in physically integrated dance. Under Judith's direction, AXIS commissioned more than 35 works from the nation's best choreographers and composers and developed one of the field's most extensive integrated dance education/outreach programs. Her advocacy work led to the first-ever National Convening on the Future of Physically Integrated Dance in the USA, supported by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation National Projects. Judith has presented at community organizations, schools, universities and conferences.  She has received an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Sustained Achievement, the O2 Initiatives Sabbatical Award and was honored as one of Theatre Bay Area's 40 people that have changed the face of Bay Area theatre. Judith is an activist for the environment, animals and people with disabilities. She raises butterflies and is involved in thoroughbred racehorse rescue and adaptive carriage driving.

Esther Grisham Grimm
Executive Director
Chicago, Illinois

Esther’s careerlong work in the arts spans museum education, arts education, and philanthropy. She is the Executive Director of 3Arts, an organization that bridges social justice and the arts by advocating for women artists, artists of color, and artists with disabilities working in the performing, teaching, and visual arts in Chicago.

Esther is the Chair of the Alliance of Artists Communities and serves on Grantmakers in the Arts' Support for Individual Artists Committee, the Dance/USA Service Organization Committee, and the American Friends of the Vienna Museum Board of Directors.

In 2017, Esther received the Kathryn V. Lamkey Spirit of Diversity Award from the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee of Actors’ Equity Association.