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Research

Accessing the Arts Online

Creative Users Projects is holding a series of conversations with people and organizations who are doing work to make their online programming accessible to Deaf, blind and/or neurodivergent audiences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked them to tell us about a recent accessible online event or project that they worked on, to learn more about their challenges, solutions, and the tools and resources that are helping to make digital accessible. We’ll be sharing these conversations as a series of case studies and a resource.

Case study #1: Luminato Virtual Festival

Cathy Gordon, Festival & Community Engagement Manager, Luminato Festival

From June 11th – June 13th, 2020, Luminato was reimagined as an interactive digital space for art, performance, and conversation. Three days of free, virtual programming brought together more than 70 artists and audiences from across Canada and around the world.

How was this project or event accessible?

ASL Saturday Afternoon
Natasha Bacchus, Naomi Campbell, and Dian Marie Bridge lead an afternoon of ASL and captioned programming, along with a poetry performance by Natasha.

Luminato Listening Parties
Luminato hosted two audio described listening parties, where audiences could experience the event as a group and participate in a moderated discussion following the event.

  • Red Dress Productions – May I Take Your Arm? (in partnership with FOLDA)
  • John Millard and Tomson Highway – The Cave

Captioning
There were two captioned events at the Luminato Virtual Festival – Blast Theory’s My One Demand with open captions, and Vista20 with Zuppa Theatre Co. – an app with captioning.

What was your biggest challenge or pain point?

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a reimagining of what Luminato could look like in a socially distanced context – figuring out which of the performances could proceed and which ones wouldn’t work, and what kind of measures would be required. Eventually, we decided to cancel the live festival, which meant contacting each artist, venue, vendor, and anyone providing services relating to accessibility (ASL interpretation, audio description, etc.).

We floated the idea that we may be doing a digital festival and gauging interest from the artists and accessibility service providers as to whether or not they would want to be involved. The process was quite complicated for a variety of reasons. Still, at the beginning of May, it was decided that the festival would take place over three days in June, even though we didn’t have everything locked down in terms of programming, etc. And then things happened very rapidly in the six weeks leading up to the festival.

How was it successful? What solutions or tools did you use?

As we reached out, we got an enthusiastic response from people who were on board right away. Christine Malec (host of the Luminato Listening Parties) was very supportive, and it came up early on that she had already hosted a listening party, so we knew that was a thing we could do. Christine did a segment about the festival on AMI (https://www.ami.ca/category/kelly-and-company-podcast/media/full-show-episode-838) with Alex Bulmer as a guest speaker [check this].

Rebecca Singh worked very hard to do the audio description for The Cave. We had all kinds of troubleshooting to do – we wrote a whole script and had maybe a day of rehearsal. Rebecca had her copy of the show on her computer, so we weren’t relying only on a stream coming through on her end.

So much was happening simultaneously – the FOLDA Festival was happening around the same time in Kingston, and through a few conversations with them, it became clear that we should bring May I Take Your Arm? into our program to boost both our efforts and avoid creating competition. Also, because we collaborated with FOLDA, we were able to double our ASL content.

What didn’t work? What would you do differently?

Short time frame
Because so many things were happening at once in a short amount of time, communication was essential to manage and make sure everyone was on the same page. In hindsight, there could have been even more integration and overlap, but it was part of the difficulty of working at that speed, with so many moving parts and people in many different cities. It’s not a lot of time to plan.

Online accessibility
Rebecca’s (audio describer) part was tricky because she had to ride the volume of the show manually from her computer, so you would see her cursor show up on the screen. We got some comments on the visuals from audience members that were sighted.

I think we would try some different equipment for the soft sound to give more control to Rebecca specifically around that. Interestingly enough, the listeners gave the feedback that they preferred a slightly quieter description so that the integrity and energy of the performance wasn’t interrupted by the description.

As for ASL interpretation, we discovered that as soon as you put frames around someone, you have to be careful not to cut out their hands. So we had to work a little bit with the frames to make sure their hands were entirely visible.

We learned to make sure that you have time to practice the technical framing of the hands inside of any kind of design feature that your platform might have. It took some time to work through that content in ASL. However, everything takes time. It’s just the nature of doing work – any art project is going to take some rehearsal.

And finally, the idea of making captioning more ubiquitous throughout the whole experience.

Do you have any recommended resources to share? What kind of tools have you heard that others are using at present?

Well, I can express my gratitude and admiration to FOLDA and Clayton Baraniuk (Access Coordinator at FOLDA). It was unfortunate because I didn’t even know Clayton was working on accessibility for FOLDA until June!

Is your project archived/available online?

Not this year. It was a matter of balancing the artists’ rights and their original agreements while still making the festival more accessible to our audiences. Based on feedback, I think that may change for next year.

A screenshot of the Accessing the Arts team and facilitators on a Zoom call

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