Impacts of the Wagner Program for Children with Disabilities
Through programs like the Jeanette & Paul Wagner Educational Program for Children with Disabilities, the Historic House Trust of New York City strives to become more accessible and welcoming to school age children with physical and cognitive disabilities.
The Historic House Trust partnered with Devereux, a leader in assisting individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder develop communication, social, and independence skills needed to realize fulfilling, productive, and socially connected lives, to support programs for children with Autism at the HHT's partner sites.
From October to December of 2014, the Morris-Jumel Mansion Museum presented an exhibition, Touch History: An Installation by Kathleen Granados. The exhibit was made possible with generous support provided by the Historic House Trust's Jeanette & Paul Wagner Educational Program for Children with Disabilities and Contemporary Art Partnerships, along with the New York State Council on the Arts and the Columbia University Medical Center Neighborhood Fund. In conjunction with the exhibition, curated by Jasmine Helm, Curatorial Assistant at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, a series of drop-in touch tours, for individuals who are blind or partially sighted, developed in partnership with Art Beyond Sight, were held. Participants went on a guided touch tour of Touch History and were able to experience the art, history, and textures of the mansion. In addition to the tours, held throughout November and December, a workshop for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, along with their families, was held on November 22nd. At the workshop, participants created a soft sculpture with fabric, buttons, and other materials inspired by Touch History and the interiors of the mansion.
In May 2015, Spellbound Theatre and the Old Stone House, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, presented a multi-sensory, non-narrative performance appropriate for families with children on the Autism spectrum. The performance was tactile, participatory, and relied on visual storytelling and one-on-one connection between performers and audience. Spellbound artists worked with Old Stone House Education Director Maggie Weber and the education staff of the Old Stone House, as well as Autism Spectrum Disorder experts from Devereux, to create an interactive performance structure appropriate for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Artists were working in residence at the Old Stone House in order to devise, build, and rehearse the show. The play is an adaptation of Spellbound Theatre's "Under the Tree," using the previously successful materials, context, and design of this show, but creating an entirely new performance integrating best practices of Autism-friendly performances, as well as the historical context of the Old Stone House and New York State history and environmental education.
Search and Discovery, was a family program held in conjunction with MJ Levy Dickson’s "Like Seaglass: A Hand Full of Light-Reflection" at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. The program allowed young people with disabilities, along with their families, the chance to participate in the art process and explore the sensory and tactile nature of the glass. Children chose pieces of glass that struck their fancy and discovered relationships with the colors, shapes, and textures that they found on the mansion grounds. Inspired by their discoveries, families made paper collages that mirrored the colors and shapes of the glass. This inclusive program fostered sensory engagement and art appreciation for a diverse audience. In July, the program was the subject of a panel at the United States Society for Education through Art Conference held at the Queens Museum, where the organizers spoke on the successes of the program, what could be improved, and how a similar program could be held at other sites.
The Wagner program also held a training session in August 2015 at the Lefferts Historic House Museum in Prospect Park for HHT site educators. After presentations on teaching strategies by Annie Leist from Art Beyond Sight and Amy Kelly from Devereux, participants broke up into groups to explore different "sensory stations" as inspiration for similar activities at their own sites. The stations included one where paper bags were filled with different objects and participants had to see if what they felt matched what they saw when the objects were revealed. There were jars filled with aromatics from the Lefferts herb garden at another station, allowing for non-visual experiences of a number of plants. In addition, there was a station filled with soothing and calming objects that could be put in a “sensory room," a place set aside for those on the autism spectrum to go if they felt overstimulated.
Poetry Celebration, held at the Lewis Latimer House Museum, was an evening for local Queens poets to show off their talents in a venue accessible to the deaf community, complete with ASL and CART interpretation. The celebration was part of Light on Sound, by artists Jessica Houston and Maya Pindyck, an interactive poetry installation that celebrates the multi-cultural Flushing community. Houston and Pindyck conducted three poetry workshops during which participants shared thoughts and experiences, and wrote and recorded poems in Mandarin, Spanish, and English. These poems are activated by light in the Latimer House and on signs on Flushing street lamp posts, which invited passersby to call in to hear the poems as well as record their own. The one-night open mic event included Flushing residents who contributed to the installation as well as the renowned deaf slam poet Douglas Ridloff and former Queens Poet Laureate Paolo Javier.