Christena Gunther and Anna Cosner share a passion for the arts and accessibility for all. Towards that end, they help run the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium (CCAC), a non-profit, all-volunteer outreach organization that’s making a big difference in the lives of art and cultural patrons across the region. Accessibility is becoming more the norm than the exception.
As described by CCAC Founder Gunther, the organization is a group of cultural administrators and people from the disability community interested in improving and innovating physical and programmatic accessibility for people with disabilities in Chicago’s cultural spaces.
Founded in 2012 by Gunther, Evan Hatfield and Lynn Walsh, CCAC provides workshops and training sessions to help staff at museums and theatres in Chicago become more accessible to people with disabilities. It also loans out captioning and audio equipment for use with films and presentations.
Christena Gunther, founder of CCAC
It seems a daunting task for a city the size of Chicago, but CCAC is more than up to it. The organization provides a number of art museums and cultural centers with devices to assist people who may have hearing issues. It has monthly developmental workshops where it talks to and educates personnel in how best to communicate their message of accessibility to all patrons.
“Our mission is to empower Chicago’s cultural spaces to become more accessible to visitors with disabilities,” says Gunther. “We do this by creating ongoing professional development workshops, an equipment loan program, an Access Calendar, and facilitating an active community.”
Gunther grew up with a passion for visiting art museums. Her younger brother was born with Down syndrome, and that experience fueled Gunther’s interest in accessibility at a young age. She later was involved in accessibility for visitors with disabilities at the Metropolitan Museum and Lincoln Center, and was a member of New York’s Museum Access Consortium (MAC) steering committee.
In just a very short time, CCAC has been successful in getting numerous cultural organizations to commit to taking at least one step to become more accessible. “We’re completely volunteer run,” says Gunther, adding that the organization just recently achieved its non-profit status as a 501(c)(3)
“We’re finding from most organizations that they are trying to be more accessible,” says Cosner, who grew up in Southern California and serves as a co-chair of CCAC. “We’re giving them tips and they are taking baby steps and seeing results. “
CCAC has been recognized for its outstanding work. In 2016, the Lifeline Theatre awarded CCAC and its co-chairs the Raymond R. Snyder Commitment to the Arts Award. And in 2015, the prestigious Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts awarded CCAC the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) Emerging Leader award.
“Right now,” says Gunther, “our focus is on sustaining CCAC as we become an official nonprofit and begin fundraising efforts. In the future, we have big ideas of ramping up our equipment loan program, individualized trainings for organizations, and other areas.
Training workshops are a regular part of CCAC outreach
Cosner is proud of the work CCAC has done to date. She notes that Chicago is not the only place in America where accessibility has become a driving force. “There’s also a much larger community of people who work in museums and theaters across the country (and internationally) that is working to make cultural spaces more accessible,” she says.
“The annual LEAD conference is hosted by the Kennedy Center every August – the last one had between 300-400 people. These are cultural administrators who gather to learn from each other and push this work forward.”
To learn more, go to http://chicagoculturalaccess.org/