RidgeGate Up Close
Special Feature on the Lone Tree Arts Center, Winner of the SCFD Rex Morgan Award
“RidgeGate Up Close” is our series of interviews with people who make RidgeGate a more vibrant place. Read the unexpected stories of residents, workers and local leaders who live and work here. Know someone who has a unique perspective or life in RidgeGate? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month, we’re bringing you a special feature about our community’s cultural gem, the Lone Tree Arts Center, recent winner of the 2018 Rex Morgan Award from SCFD. The Arts Center received this special award in recognition of its commitment to serving individuals with disabilities. We sat down and talked about the award with members of the Arts Center’s staff:
-Lisa Rigsby Peterson, Executive Director
-Leigh Chandler, Marketing Director
-Robin Scurto, Annual Fund Manager
-Michelle Sosa-Mallory, Corporate and Foundation Manager
Embodying a belief that the arts are for everyone, the Lone Tree Arts Center was recognized as a leader in the creation of affordable, high-quality sensory-friendly performances for individuals with disabilities. We sat down with Lisa, Leigh, Robin and Michelle to discuss LTAC’s region-wide collaborations with other arts organizations and businesses, as well as the real life job experiences they offer to adults with special needs.
#1. In November of 2018, the Lone Tree Arts Center was the recipient of the SCFD’s coveted Rex Morgan Award. What is the SCFD, and who was Rex Morgan?
Lisa: “The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) is a one-tenth of one percent sales tax on purchases in the seven-county Denver Metro area. The funding goes to support scientific and cultural non-profit organizations.
Rex Morgan was instrumental in creating the SCFD in the late 80s. The award we received is named in his honor and recognizes his spirit of leadership and volunteerism in the community.”
#2. How has the Lone Tree Arts Center embodied Mr. Morgan’s spirit of leadership and volunteerism?
Lisa: “We have been a leader in the sensory-friendly movement, and have encouraged participation throughout the Denver metro area from cultural and scientific organizations of all sizes. In 2015, we convened the first sensory-friendly summit with 50 different SCFD-funded organizations. Since then, we’ve partnered with over 10 organizations to deliver sensory-friendly programs here at the Arts Center. After our summit, the Colorado Symphony developed its sensory-friendly program, and the Colorado Ballet is now exploring it. It’s the spirit of collaboration here that takes many by surprise. We’re ‘supposed’ to be competing, but in this case, we’re collaborating! That is part of why we received this award. There are now a lot of organizations that are really committing to serving this population.”
#3. What “population” are we talking about serving through sensory-friendly programming, and how are you altering your programming to fit their needs?
Leigh: “People who have Autism or other sensory sensitivities are our primary audience. We may leave the house lights up, or turn the sound down a little more. We modify sudden loud noises, strobe lights, blackouts and things like that. Also, instead of clapping, we do “jazz hands” to avoid startling people in the audience. The environment is very accommodating of all needs – people can talk, make noise, or move around. We make it a judgment-free space. In doing all this, we want people to understand that the arts are for everyone!”
Lisa: “Yes, I’d say the main difference is that a sensory-friendly performance is just a little bit softer. We want to share our experience and show other organizations that it is actually really easy to make these modifications.”
Michelle: “We also want this to be an affordable experience for the families that attend, so we keep our sensory-friendly ticket prices at $5. We find funding through underwriting so that we can keep the performance at the highest quality. Charles Schwab, Sky Ridge Medical Center, PNC Bank, Bellco Credit Union and Developmental Pathways have been wonderful supporters. We also have strong support from individual donors, including Joel and Janet Kaufman.
Park Meadows was also a great season sponsor this last year. They had watched us develop all this sensory-friendly programming, and asked if we would help them develop a sensory-friendly morning with Santa at their Santa Headquarters in the mall. We helped by bringing the patrons and ushers, and they opened the mall early that day, trained their security and merchants, lowered music levels, etc. It was a really intimate and touching experience. I think we’re helping open the eyes of the business population to the needs in our community.”
#4. I understand children and other sensory-friendly show attendees can also earn free tickets through Passport to Culture?
Robin: “Yes! The City of Lone Tree started this program before the Lone Tree Arts Center opened. The idea is to introduce children to new cultures and genres of art by engaging them in arts experiences. Children who attend get a passport and a sticker specific to every show they see. Once they get 8 stickers they get a free ticket to their next show.”
#5. What challenges do the cast and crew face when producing a sensory-friendly performance?
Leigh: “I think getting used to people not clapping is huge for a performer.”
Robin: “Yes, applause is one way a performer can benefit, but when we leave the lights up our performers have eye contact and connect with their audience. It’s a different and powerful kind of experience for them.”
#6. What kind of feedback do you get from the performers about performing in sensory-friendly shows?
Lisa: “We’ve been told it is some of the most meaningful work they’ve ever done.”
#7. And what is the feedback from the families who attend?
Michelle: “We’ve heard that people appreciate not only the modifications during the show, but the extra work we put in to preparing the families before they come. We create social stories that are primers to help guide and prepare someone for this experience.
We also have an usher program that we created in partnership with Wellspring Community in Castle Rock, which is a day program for adults with disabilities. We train these ushers to be greeters and seaters at our sensory-friendly performances. It was so popular that we started offering ‘usherships’ to some of these individuals for our other performances. We’re also working on a similar program with Arapahoe Community College, called Elevate at ACC. I think the community really wants and appreciates the job related experiences we can provide.”
#8. You have a few sensory-friendly performances left in the 2018/2019 schedule. What can we look forward to next season?
Robin: “We have not announced our shows for next season yet, but in the fall of 2019 we’ll have another sensory-friendly open house where we invite the families to come explore backstage, on stage and we’ll have a resource fair at the same time. People can go to www.lonetreeartscenter.org for more information.”
#9. The Lone Tree Arts Center is also busy during the summer months, isn’t it?
Lisa: “Yes! Tunes on the Terrace, which is sponsored by RidgeGate, will be back again this summer! [Editor’s note: This summer’s Tunes on the Terrace schedule is still underway, but keep checking our Events page for dates and details!] We’ll be hosting at least one of those shows at the Charles Schwab Amphitheater, which is another great amenity in the RidgeGate neighborhood.”
Check out this coverage of the Lone Tree Arts Center’s sensory-friendly programming from CBS4 Denver (KCNC):