Disabilities enriched by music: “Tear Down This Wall” new initiative

Zachary Staab
Assoc. News Editor

A new initiative at Millersville University is making music in the lives of individuals with disabilities. The “Tear Down This Wall” (TDTW) initiative, created by Program Manager Barry Kornhauser, is a multifaceted program that brings professional artists with disabilities to campus, creating opportunities for individuals in the community with disabilities to perform.
The TDTW initiative recently received a $23,500 competitive grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters/MetLife Foundation All-In: Re-imagining Community Participation Grant Program. The grant will help support the first year of the program for the 2013-14 artistic season, however, the goal of the initiative is not to be a one-year occurrence. The program is intended for individuals with disabilities to continually enrich the Lancaster artistic community through their inspiration and creativity.
“Millersville will work to make our friends and neighbors with disabilities full participants in the cultural life of the Lancaster community,” said Kornhauser. “So I hope that will help enrich the quality of life here for everyone–those with disabilities and those without.”
On February 18, a Disability and the Arts Forum launched the TDTW initiative with presentations from disability leaders at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, VSA Pennsylvania, the Smithsonian Institute, the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, and a performance from a distinguished disability artist. Two events are scheduled in April and, as Kornhauser explained, a “Disability Advisory Committee with members from the local disability community,” will be established to have events scheduled on a regular basis.
The first event is Fam Fun Fest on April 6, featuring a performance of “Simple Gifts” by Cashore Marionettes, a puppeteer group that explores many emotions with characters that seem incredibly lifelike through a series of inspiring stories accompanied with classical music. The second event, to be held on April 20 as part of Fam Fun Fest, highlights the Dancing Wheels, a performance that combines the talents of both able bodied dancers and wheelchair dancers.
To increase the full potential of TDTW in the community, the initiative is creating projects with dance, theatre, music, and visual arts programs at Millersville. One of the projects, debuting this spring, will include dance lessons in the Winter Center with Cobalt Dance, a local company that is trained in techniques to work with people who have Parkinson’s disease.
After working 25 years with teens who are blind, physically or cognitively disabled, and deaf, the creation and sustainability of disability arts programs is something Kornhauser feels strongly about. One “abundantly clear” issue that he would like to change occurs when a person with a disability turns 21.
“He or she sort of falls off the cliff, services diminish greatly, as do opportunities just to socialize. So we will use the arts to offer programming that help reverse both of these losses,” said Kornhauser.
An official committee has not been appointed to TDTW yet, but various students, staff, and faculty are supporting the initiative by offering academic services, research, arts programs. Other groups, such as the M.U. Arts Council and Creative Campus Cohort, are already committed to fostering the beginning stages of TDTW. In response to the help he receives for the initiative, Kornhauser said, “I’m really just part of a team effort, and having such passionate, intelligent, caring, hardworking, and talented colleagues and students as teammates makes me feel that we will really make a meaningful difference in many lives.” The people most involved in this project have been Dean Umble, Professors Downey and Neuville, Laura Kendall of the Winter Center, and Harvey Owen of the Ware Center. The initial supporters are passionate about the unique potential of the initiative, but the involvement of Millersville Students as teachers, researchers, partners, and mentors is necessary for the continued development of TDTW.