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Authenticity in Action

Authenticity in Action

DEIBA Success Stories in the Arts

This episode is hosted by Dan Titmuss.

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In This Episode

What sets successful diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and access (DEIBA) initiatives apart? It's not about checking boxes; it's about prioritizing authenticity and thoughtfulness.

Some of the most impactful DEIBA work in our industry begins with arts organizations fostering genuine community partnerships and engaging audiences in meaningful ways. In this episode, we discuss inspiring examples of how embracing these principles can lead to profound, positive changes in our organizations.

Digital Download

Dan sits down with Consultant Selia Aponte to talk about reaching new audiences with bilingual ads: how to use them, when they work best, and how to ensure a smooth audience journey for ESL attendees.

CI to Eye Interview with John Orr

CI President Priya Iyer Doshi chats with John Orr, Executive Director of Art-Reach in Philadelphia. They discuss how we can make the arts a more inclusive space for disabled and chronically ill audiences, and ensure the full spectrum of society is served through our programming.

CI-Lebrity Sightings

Dan highlights some of CI’s favorite arts stories in the news.

Rachel Purcell Fountain: If you like nerding out about the arts with CI to Eye, you will love Boot Camp. It’s one of the only conferences 100% tailored to making you a stronger arts marketer, leader, and champion for our industry. In fact, we’re so sure you’ll love it that we’re offering listeners $50 off in-person registration. Just use code POD50 by August 31st to claim your discount. While this offer cannot be combined with other offers, you can get even more savings by inviting two of your best arts marketing friends and taking advantage of additional group discounts. Your Boot Camp adventure awaits at

Dan Titmuss: Hi everyone, Dan here. So just like many other industries, the arts sector is on an ongoing quest to improve D-E-I-B-A. That’s diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and access. But what truly sets successful initiatives apart? It’s not about checking boxes, it’s about prioritizing authenticity and thoughtfulness. Some of the most impactful work we’ve seen begins with arts organizations fostering genuine community partnerships and engaging audiences in meaningful ways. In today’s episode, we’ll discuss inspiring examples of how embracing these principles can lead to profound, positive changes in our organizations. First, I’ll sit down with Consultant Selia Aponte to talk about reaching new audiences with bilingual ads: how to use them, when they work best, and how to ensure a smooth audience journey for ESL attendees. Then CI’s President Priya Iyer Doshi will chat with John Orr, Executive Director of Art-Reach in Philadelphia. They’ll discuss how we can make the arts a more inclusive space for disabled and chronically ill audiences and ensure the full spectrum of society is served through our programming. Not only do we have those two great interviews, but we also have an exciting new segment debuting today. Stick around until the end of the episode for a lightning round of our favorite arts stories in the news. Who knows? Maybe your organization will be featured. Alright, everyone, let’s dive in, shall we?

I’m so excited to chat with consultant Selia Aponte about the benefits of running bilingual campaigns. Selia, welcome to your first CI to Eye interview.

Selia Aponte: Hi, Dan. Thanks for having me.

Dan Titmuss: Absolutely. It does seem like bilingual campaigns are a huge, often overlooked opportunity to reach new audiences, right?

Selia Aponte: Definitely. So running bilingual campaigns for an upcoming exhibition or a show is a great way to engage with audiences who may be new to your organization, and to extend your organization’s existing efforts around diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and access, otherwise referred to as D-I-E-B-A, we know that a lot of our audiences come from a variety of different backgrounds, and some patrons may feel more comfortable using a language other than English.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, I think I read recently 42 million Americans have Spanish as a first language, and another 15 million Americans can speak it as a second language. So it’s a huge audience, 42 million out of, what is it, 350 million people in the USA?

Selia Aponte: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a huge untapped market and there really aren’t many arts organizations who are running bilingual campaigns. So it’s a great opportunity to distinguish yourself as an organization that is a space that is welcoming to patrons in a way that feels genuine and authentic to them. Keep in mind that this type of approach likely won’t make sense for every single show or exhibition, but we do recommend testing bilingual ads if and when it makes sense with the programming that you have and with your particular audience goals.

Dan Titmuss: And these bilingual ads, are they relatively easy to set up? How do we get going on these?

Selia Aponte: Yeah, they’re pretty easy to set up. So we can use in-platform language preferences in Meta and Google to serve different versions of the same ad to different audiences. So for example, if you select Spanish as your preferred language at the audience level in a campaign, then your ads are going to be served to users who have set Spanish as their preferred computer language. In the case of Google, or if we’re talking about Meta, it’s their preferred app language, and it’s important to note that you will need to create two different versions of your ads if you’re running a campaign like this. So you’ll need one version that’s in English and another version in another language. So there is a bit of an extra creative lift, but once you are done creating those two versions, the process of setting up a bilingual campaign is pretty straightforward.

Dan Titmuss: It actually surprises me that there isn’t an automatic button for that. With the advances of AI recently and how good it is at translating and understanding the meaning of words, and using that in different languages—it actually surprised me there isn’t just a “create ad in Spanish.”

Selia Aponte: Right, like an automatic translate kind of feature. And I’m sure it’s coming down the pipeline. There are so many AI driven tools within the Meta platform specifically, and also in Google, there’s a feature right now where you write in your ad copy and it will give you variations, right? So I’m sure there is a version that’s coming where it’s like you enter your ad copy in English and there’s a button that says, would you like to translate this into French? I’m sure that’s coming.

Dan Titmuss: Have you run bilingual campaigns with CI clients before?

Selia Aponte: Yes, I have. So we recently worked with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on a fully bilingual campaign strategy for their exhibition, Diego Rivera’s America. So we served English and Spanish versions of the same ad content to both new and existing audiences with the goal of building awareness for this exhibit, and of course to drive ticket sales as well. And this was really the perfect use case for a bilingual approach for two reasons. So one, Diego Rivera is a very prominent famous Mexican painter whose work and his life story are really steeped in the Spanish language. So this just felt like a natural exhibition to do this for. And then the second thing is that these campaigns were part of a multilayered ongoing D-I-E-B-A strategy at Crystal Bridges. So the museum has really made a conscious effort over the past couple years to create an inclusive, bilingual, accessible space for all patrons, and that includes both onsite and through their digital presence. So I think that really allowed us to make these campaigns possible, and it was really a goal for Crystal Bridges.

Dan Titmuss: So these bilingual campaigns, they’re just one facet of a larger D-E-I-B-A effort, right? So how did these campaigns perform?

Selia Aponte: Really well. So our Meta campaign drove 551 purchases, and of those 59 purchases, about 11% were driven by our Spanish language ads, and 12 of those purchases were transactions from acquisition audiences, meaning that these were completely new patrons who had never visited Crystal Bridges before, which was really exciting to see.

Dan Titmuss: Wow, that’s incredible performance. Did you also see a lift in engagement as well? Did you see more key page views?

Selia Aponte: Yeah, we did. So our ads drove over 4,000 visits to the Spanish translated version of the Diego Rivera landing page and over 20,000 page views to the English version of the page. And what was really exciting was that capturing these views allowed us to further build Crystal Bridges’ remarketing pools so that they can then engage these visitors again in future bilingual campaigns.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, it’s opening up a whole, almost like, new audience, right?

Selia Aponte: Absolutely.

Dan Titmuss: As we mentioned before, those 42 million Americans who are Spanish speaking first, I should imagine—you probably don’t have the exact data on this because we didn’t run a like-for-like experiment—but the conversion rate’s likely going to be higher if you see something in your first language, right?

Selia Aponte: Absolutely. And I think we see this just with campaigns in general, that the more often you run ads, the stronger your results are going to be. So I would expect that we would see the same thing here if we were to run another bilingual campaign in the future, that we would see better and better performance from those Spanish audiences.

Dan Titmuss: Is that just because the Meta platform is kind of learning who that new audience is so they can get the ads to the right people in the right combinations?

Selia Aponte: Yeah, it’s absolutely that. And I would also say just thinking about the user journey, most of us need more than one touch point sometimes before we decide to press play and buy the thing. I know I have to see at least three ads for a pair of jeans before I’m finally like, okay, fine, lemme go to the website and buy these jeans. So I think it’s multiple touch points as well.

Dan Titmuss: I just bought my dog a new harness. He’s a growing puppy, eight months old at the moment, and it’s been in my tab—my many, many emotional support tabs as I call them. They’re sort of…

Selia Aponte: A long consideration period.

Dan Titmuss: Where I’m just like, I need to be reminded a few times. And then finally one Instagram ad got me, so I was like, okay.

Selia Aponte: Sort of tips you over the edge.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So the results you just talked about, they’re from Meta, but you also ran ads on Google as well, right?

Selia Aponte: Yeah, we did. So we saw similar results on Google as well, and we ran ads on display and YouTube for context. So those ads drove a total of 433 purchases. And of those 113, so that’s about 26%, a little over a quarter were from our Spanish language ads, so even stronger than the results we were seeing on Meta. And these ads also drove over 104,000 visits to the Spanish translated landing page, which again was just really awesome performance.

Dan Titmuss: And you didn’t run search ads, but I should imagine the process for setting up search ads is reasonably similar as well.

Selia Aponte: You would basically need to have your list of keywords in English, a list of keywords in Spanish, and then again one version of the ads that would be in English, and then another version of the ads that would be in Spanish. And you would set your language settings appropriately, like we talked about before. So very similar process for search.

Dan Titmuss: So why do you think these ads were so successful?

Selia Aponte: Yeah, I think it goes back to something that I mentioned before, which was that these campaigns didn’t run in a vacuum, they weren’t one-off, like “Let’s try this and see how it goes” kind of random flippant decision. They were really part of a larger, very authentic D-I-E-B-A effort that extends beyond Crystal Bridges digital efforts to the actual onsite experience at the museum. So when you arrive for a visit to Crystal Bridges, you are going to see bilingual signage for restrooms, parking, directions to the various galleries… There are printed brochures that are in multiple languages, including Spanish. There are audio and guided tours offered in Spanish and other languages as well. And then finally, I think this is sort of the coolest feature, is that those little labels that are next to a piece of art in a museum? Crystal Bridges actually has those in English and Spanish for every single piece of art in their museum, which is an incredible feat and something that took them a while to do, but really impressive and a really cool feature.

Dan Titmuss: So they thought, even offline, they thought deeply and authentically about the entire process for both an English speaker and a Spanish speaker. They want the experience to be as like-for-like as possible.

Selia Aponte: Absolutely.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah. And online as well.

Selia Aponte: Online as well. That was where we started with our ads. So they have made a concerted effort to translate several key pages of their website into Spanish. I believe there are plans to translate into other languages as well, but they’re starting with Spanish. So all of their exhibition pages are currently translatable, including the Diego Rivera landing page. But all of their exhibitions that they’ve had since then are also, there’s an option to view the page in Spanish, which is great because in this case, having a Spanish version of the Diego Rivera landing page allowed us to create a really seamless digital experience. So we weren’t showing someone an ad in Spanish and then having them click through that ad to an English landing page sort of breaking up that experience. It was really just sort of a seamless transition from the ad to the website to the actual museum.

Dan Titmuss: And that can be quite a complex process. I know from SEO, like in the search landscape, there is certain tags you need to add if you have two different versions of a page in different languages. Like hreflang tags, to get super nerdy SEO, which I can do very easily, unfortunately.

Selia Aponte: I do think it’s interesting. And can I ask on behalf of our users, so Dan, if I were going to make a Spanish translated version of a landing page, would you recommend that I make that a separate page, or should it be this one page with two versions? Can you talk about that?

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, there’s multiple ways you can do it. The most important thing is to create what’s called the hreflang tag. It basically says to Google, “Hey Google, this is the link for a Spanish page. This is the link for an English page.” And you also have where the language originates as well. So it’s different for UK English versus US English and US Spanish versus Spanish Spanish. So there’s a lot that goes into it.

Selia Aponte: Does that mean if I have the word bathroom on my page, it will translate to “loo,” or what is that?

Dan Titmuss: Yes. Otherwise I won’t understand what on earth you’re talking about.

Selia Aponte: Okay, great. Good.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah. So yeah, there’s a lot of work that goes into it. Usually there is ways of doing this with coding in terms of a developer can usually sort out an easy way to do this as well, so you don’t have to go through each one. But yeah, they would need essentially two different pages. But I think just because there’s a lot of work that goes into it, that shouldn’t dissuade you from making this change and wading into bilingual campaigns. Right?

Selia Aponte: Yeah, absolutely. And I will say, we talked about, I just gave you a whole laundry list of things that Crystal Bridges has done both onsite and online to kind of make this a seamless experience. But one thing we didn’t talk about is the actual ticketing purchase path. So we were showing these Spanish ads, which took someone to a Spanish landing page. Once they clicked on the ‘buy tickets’ button of that landing page, they were then taken to an English version of the purchase path. So the entire online journey wasn’t completely translated. But again, to your point, I don’t think anyone should let that stop them from attempting a bilingual campaign. I think start small, work with the resources that you have, do what you can, and go from there. I think this is something that you can continue to iterate on, but to your point, I wouldn’t let one tiny, tiny piece of this puzzle stop you from starting at all.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah. There’s no such thing as a perfect campaign, so you can’t really let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Selia Aponte: Exactly.

Dan Titmuss: I think as you’ve laid out earlier, what it comes down to is in your outreach. When you do this authentically, it’s a great way to reach new audiences and further your D-E-I-B-A efforts, right?

Selia Aponte: Yeah.

Dan Titmuss: So thank you so much for walking us through this and for being on the pod.

Selia Aponte: Thank you so much, Dan. This was so much fun.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Hi, John. Welcome to CI to Eye.

John Orr: Yeah, thanks for having me. This is great.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Of course. So you are the executive director of Art-Reach, and I am really excited to talk more about the organization and just give the organization more light here on CI to Eye. But before we do that, I do just want to spend a little bit of time talking about you personally. So tell me a little bit about your connection to the arts. Why did you choose to pursue a career in the arts?

John Orr: Yeah, so I was 17 and my sister worked at the Franklin Institute Science Museum, and she just got me a job. But once I got in there, I kind of fell in love with it, and I felt like I had found my people. So, I’m neurodivergent, and what that means is that sometimes I don’t really learn in a classroom or in a formal setting the way that other people do. So growing up as a kid, I needed informal spaces to learn. And so these informal spaces were always just, they’re just important to me and they’re what make sort of the world available to me. And so when I got to a museum and I was like, wait, I can work here? This is amazing. It felt really comfortable and it was a place I was familiar with. Those early days, working at the admission desk of a major museum in Philadelphia really kind of shaped how I would approach my work later on, and it just sort of grew from there.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. And I also am just going to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about your neurodivergence. Do you feel like you always had a vocabulary to describe what you were experiencing in that? I feel like that word even is not, it feels newer in the space, but I’m just curious to hear more about when you felt like you could describe what was happening.

John Orr: Yeah, so that’s a great question. How much time do we have?

Priya Iyer Doshi: I know. I know. I went off script already.

John Orr: No, you’re good. So disability language is just such a funny thing. So many different people that identify in different ways. And so it’s always hard to say what I’m about to say because I don’t want to disparage the way other people feel about it. I actually don’t really like the word neurodivergence because divergence to me is always something starting at the same point and kind of going in opposite directions. And I don’t approach my life as if I’m walking on this divergent path than everyone else. I’m just looking for accommodations to kind of bring our paths together so that we can have more of a convergent experience as we go through life. So the word, even for me, it’s a word that I’m still getting used to myself, to be honest.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. Yeah.

John Orr: I think being younger, I was undiagnosed for so long, so I didn’t even have the language. I didn’t know what was happening. I wasn’t aware that I was processing information in a way that was different than everybody else. I do remember being in school really young, about nine years old, and it was the first time I really thought to myself like, oh my gosh, I’m the dumbest kid in this class. I don’t get it. I don’t understand what we’re talking about. And I remember just being confused and thinking, we all have the same books, we have the same teachers, we have the same school days. Why do other people get this and I am so bad? So at nine years old, I cut school the way at 9-year-old cuts school. I just faked a stomachache every single day.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Oh my gosh.

John Orr: But the thing that got me going back to school was they offered piano lessons after school the second half of the year. And what I found was that when I played music, I felt different. I never learned how to read music. I couldn’t ever figure that out. But playing music did something different to my brain. And I used to call it tricking my brain. That was my official disability language, I guess.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. Wow.

John Orr: And it’s an accommodation that I still use today. I have instruments everywhere in my workplace, at my house, and whenever I’m stuck writing a grant or stuck developing a plan, I have an instrument and I think of a song, and then I figure out how to play it by ear until it’s there. And then it might take a while, but once I can put that puzzle together in my head, it’s like I’ve got a baseline to go back, sit down with my work, and put a coherent grant application together or a coherent business plan together. And it’s funny because we talk about at Art-Reach “the power of the arts,” and we have never really defined that, but in some ways I’ve been using the arts as an accommodation just to get where I am and figure out what I need to do since fourth grade.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Wow. Talk about the importance of the arts, and also I love that you still do that today. I love that when you feel stuck, you know what you can do, and you surround yourself with music. Wow, I’m glad I went off script. That is a beautiful story. Yeah, I’m glad. I know from having talked to you before and having had previous conversations with you that there is an intentionality to you leading art reach in particular. And you just talked about your own neurodivergence and your childhood. Can you share with our listeners a little bit more about your journey to and your connection to the mission and sort of what drives you in that work?

John Orr: Yeah, so as I mentioned, I started off at admission desks at pretty big museums. And one of the things you see immediately in a city like Philadelphia where the poverty rate is really high, the disability rate is really high, you see families who come in with their kids and they’re getting this, they’re getting that. And then you see other families that are coming in that are not. Their kids are really excited, but their parents are worried because they don’t maybe have the money to go into the site or they can’t buy the exhibit upgrade or whatever’s happening. And I think that sat with me for a while, and I remember working at the Franklin, then I moved over to the ‘dinosaur museum’ — the Academy of Natural Sciences across the street — and was working there for a while. And when I was there, I learned about what a board of directors was.

And at that time I was the museum services manager. And I was like, well, who’s that group of people? And someone in the section, the security guard Dave, he was like, oh, that’s the board of directors. And I was like, what do they do? And he just was like, oh, they run the place, they’re in charge. And I thought, they can’t run. I’ve never seen them, they’ve never talked to my team, they never talked to the people on the floor. How do they know what they’re doing? I don’t get it. And I just sort of thought to myself, if I ever run my own organization, I want to run it differently. I want it to be community built. I want it to be of the community. And when the opportunity came for Art-Reach, it was an organization that I had sort of seen, I knew of, there was so much opportunity to bring the community to the forefront while leveraging relationships with arts organizations in the city. And so I went for it and for whatever reason, they hired me. And nine and a half years later, here I am.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. Yeah. There’s so much that you’ve done over the past nine and a half years, and I feel like the organization has really shifted and evolved. Can you talk a little bit about that, talk about the evolution with your leadership and what programs you all offer today?

John Orr: Yeah, so I think when I started, we had the arts up on this pedestal, and when I came in, I was just like, well, how are we going to hold the sector accountable and change it if they’re on that pedestal? And so when I came in, I made my vision pretty clear that I was going to take the sector off that pedestal and put the community there, and we were going to work more closely aligned with community members who were disabled. And then we were going to leverage our partnership to create this sort of community pressure that would result in social change in the arts in Philadelphia. And then when the arts felt that pressure, they would turn to Art-Reach to relieve it. And I mean, there were a lot of people who didn’t agree with the approach. They thought it was too big of a reboot for the organization to sort of go through and maintain the audience that it had built up.

At that point, we were serving about 13 to 15,000 people per year. And then in my first year at Art-Reach, 41,000 people used the program.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Incredible.

John Orr: And since then, over the last nine years, it’s been about 1.4 million people that have gone through our programs and it’s just exploded into this completely different realm where we’re not just building audiences anymore. We’re not just doing discount access for people with disabilities and people experiencing poverty. We’re led by the community. Most of my staff is disabled. Every single staff member identifies with disability, either personally or through a direct family member. And it’s just changed the conversation.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Right. Yeah.

John Orr: We went from this very, very white non-disabled organization to an organization that looks like Philadelphia and is also chronically ill and physically disabled and quadriplegic and single-sided deaf and neurodivergent and autistic. And it works. And the community trusts us because we’re like, we are the community and the community is us.

Priya Iyer Doshi: And the depth of perspective that then informs the strategy and the work that you all are doing comes directly from who you’re trying to serve, which is huge.

John Orr: And it’s been a game changer. I mean, it’s just, now every year we have over 200,000 people experience the arts in accessible wayd through an Art-Reach program. Each year we want to course correct what happened with the arts. If people were left out, is visual art, is the visual art that we know, the full spectrum of what the visual arts could have been if everyone was included from the start? Is music, have we experienced the full spectrum of that or are we missing something because other people were left out of that equation for so long? So let’s find out and see what happens.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. And that’s such an inspiring driving force in the work, is really figuring out the answer to that question for all art forms. What would this look like if the art form had evolved including everyone as opposed to excluding? We know that the disability community in particular has been historically excluded from participating in the arts. So why do you think that has been the case? Why do you think that art has evolved, has in some ways excluded that community in particular?

John Orr: Yeah. I think, well, it’s like a nuanced part of the conversation. So I think even decades ago, I think people were just nervous or scared or hesitant, or they didn’t know how to, so they didn’t worry about it. And it’s just so disheartening to think that because you couldn’t figure it out right away, how to engage a person with disabilities in the arts, that you just didn’t bother to try. That’s what we’re actually trying to change. We’re not necessarily trying to convince people who aren’t disabled to come up with a solution, right?

Priya Iyer Doshi: Right.

John Orr: The community probably knows what the solution is, and they have ways that they can engage in the arts, just like I have ways that I can engage in the arts that work for me, and we just need to transfer that power to the community so that A, there’s authentic representation and there’s representation in a way that the community feels comfortable being represented. So we’re not trying to be anyone’s inspiration. I don’t want to be like, oh, look at John. He learned a song on a guitar. Good for him and his neurodivergent brain. How sweet. I don’t give a shit at all. I don’t care about that. I’m not here to inspire anybody. I do that because it works for me and it helps me navigate my life and it feels good and it makes me happy. And all of those things don’t — everyone’s going to find their own path in that way, but the community has to define that path, and I think that’s where the exclusion will start to end.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah, I love that idea of the transfer of power and what that ultimately empowers us to do as an industry in the space. So that’s great.

John Orr: I think so many people or so many organizations will ask a community what they want and then they take that information and they shoehorn it into whatever that organization really wants to do anyway. And it doesn’t build trust. It puts this sort of emotional labor on the community and it puts this expectation that something could change, but really it’s not going to. Whereas what we do, we’re just like, what do you want to do? And people tell us and we’re just like, let’s go do that. That sounds great. Super fun. Come on, let’s go. And it’s so much more authentic when it happens in that kind of way. We’re kind of restoring this trust between arts organizations in Philly and the disability community, which is just huge in the city. And that trust, when they see their idea kind of come to life, it creates the environment where people feel a little bit more safe, they feel heard, they feel seen, and they are willing to probably go back and engage with that organization again. So it’s this little bit of a restorative process that has to be rooted in trust at the base.

Priya Iyer Doshi: I feel like there are a lot of arts organizations now who are really working on their accessible, sensory-friendly experiences. And I’m curious to hear your perspective on that approach with arts organizations, and I should say there’s some arts organizations who haven’t yet started on that work. So being able to approach specific experiences accessibly and through sensory-friendly programming, that’s certainly a step forward. Versus this idea of producing universally designed experiences that include all, to use some of your earlier language. Give me your thoughts.

John Orr: Yeah, so it’s great when organizations take a first step. I think still, if a theater wants to do sensory-friendly theater performances, I think it’s really great. And there’s definitely a lot of people who benefit from that. In fact, I think sensory-friendly or relaxed performances are the closest we’ve gotten so far to universal design. I think it’s a more… like, a relaxed theater performance is lovely. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one. It’s really nice to be able to get up and move around and do it.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yes, it’s great.

John Orr: It’s great on everybody. I do worry that sometimes when places anchor down in one type of accessible programming though, that they start to think about disability in segregated ways. And there is this idea of universal design. I’ve never really seen it fully embraced. I think the closest example I’ve literally ever seen was in the movie Zootopia, which came out —

Priya Iyer Doshi: Such a good movie.

John Orr: Such a good movie. There was one scene where all these animals were getting off the train and I was just like, oh, look, they’re all getting off of different size doors. That’s universal design! But no, universal design, it’s a cool idea. How can you create a space that’s accessible to the most amount of people most of the time? It’s just, it’s challenging. And I think there are ways to do it and there’s ways that we’ve done it in the past, but it’s hard to maintain that all the time. I think the way that we work with organizations now is we want them to understand the community that they work in. And so when we work with an organization to help them plan out their accessibility practice, we’re kind of like, alright, so you need to make everything accessible, period. Number one. But we realized that just giving you that advice is not necessarily feasible. You might not have the capacity to do so. So let’s step back. And we examine their surrounding community to see what the prevalence of disability by disability type is around their site.

And we’re like, we want you to prioritize accessibility as an organizational value, but within that, maybe you want to start with programming for people who have cognitive disabilities and people who have physical disabilities, because you have the highest number of community members among those types of disability in your neighborhood. And we’re not telling you to ignore the other stuff. We’re just saying invest here first, build up quicker. And the other ones can be a little bit of a slower burn with a caveat that if somebody asks for something, you are obligated by law no matter how old you are as an organization to make it accessible in some way.

Priya Iyer Doshi: But I like the data informed approach and also the acknowledgement that we are all human beings with a finite amount of time, energy, resources to dedicate to anything. So why not focus on the place where you can see will have the greatest impact first, which doesn’t mean that the other things on the list fall off. It just means that you prioritize your list accordingly. So when we talked, you had shared some really interesting museum examples with me of ways that you’ve seen various museums creating more accessible spaces. Can you just talk about a couple of those? I found them pretty inspiring, so I would love to share those with our listeners too.

John Orr: Yeah, I mean, it’s wild to think of the spectrum on which some of our programming exists. I always use the example, we do everything from going to Eastern State Penitentiary here in Philadelphia, which is a historic ruins site of an old prison. And we were trying to make that accessible to people who were blind. And there’s this funny wagon wheel design that they always talk about, and you’re in the central hub. And we decided to take a projection of their map and just using hot glue, we traced it out onto a board and it created this raised tactile map that people could use to kind of understand the layout of the prison as they were going through their tour. And that’s a $4 accommodation. So it’s like we always use that as that’s the baseline. And then we also did this thing with Opera Philadelphia where we were making the opera accessible to people who were deaf by partnering with Music Not Impossible, who has this fiber textile haptic suit that translates music into vibration so that people can experience sound through their skin as opposed to their ears. And it’s such a wide spectrum. I think some of the things we were talking about were in art museums, and again, it scales on the easier side of the equation where if you’re looking at a painting or you’re looking at a 2D piece of art, we were using cotton balls with scented oils in Ziploc baggies to replicate the smells that were represented in the paintings that you’re seeing. If it was still life fruit, you could create this tactile experience, scents that we’re also within that environment. So little things that add on to the experience, just make it kind of better, and I remember going through on that particular tour, I think that was the Barnes Foundation, we were doing that, and there were other visitors who were kind of like, can we do it? And we were just like, I mean, sure if you want, it’s not that hard. So that’s when it gets kind of fun when accessible design improves an overall experience for the venue. It just makes the whole experience a little bit more immersive and tactile.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. When you first told me about that cotton ball example, I had the exact same thought. I want to smell the cotton balls too as a part of my experience. It just is a deeper experience that I then get to have and I get to use other senses, and that’s incredible. I love that.

John Orr: And it’s funny because when we hear, so there’s this narrative for creating buy-in with leadership at organizations, it’s like, well, we have to use the argument that accessible design is actually good for everybody. And while, sure, that can be true, what we also need to say is, look. Accessible design is not for everybody. It is specifically for the community who has been excluded. And the buy-in should start with: art is a human right, access to it is a human right. So let that be our buy-in. Not necessarily being convinced because a bunch of non-disabled people think that this program is cool as well. And it’s fun to watch that perspective shift when we do have to talk to organizations and we are helping them prep programs, or it’s just like this light bulb where they’re like, oh, right, no, I do believe in human rights. And we’re like, yeah, you sure do. You posted all that on your Instagram for so many special holidays. Human rights, woo! So yeah, it’s just like, how can we start the conversation there?

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. And how can we use the drive to remove barriers that currently are in place to ‘art as a human right’ as the main driving factor in the work? I am curious, perhaps this is connected and perhaps it isn’t, but I know that Art-Reach puts out a ton of resources for the field exploring accessibility in the arts. Can you highlight a couple of those resources and where somebody who maybe has never had exposure to Art-Reach, what resources they should start with and maybe your most popular or the ones that you think are most impactful?

John Orr: So on our website, we have a page for community learning, and it’s all workshops we’ve done in the past with different folks who have different programming or different panels that are just talking about different programs that they’ve tried. Some of them are just sort of, again, that transfer of power to the community to say, what do you want to talk about accessibility wise and how can art be a tool that helps facilitate whatever it is that you need? But some of the more formal things that we have are, we have a big nine month cohort that people can join where they’re learning best practices on everything from your baseline disability justice overview to how you’re serving different communities, how you can serve them in overlapping ways. We have a really, really cheap conference for the arts. In fact, we might even make it free this year.

I think last year, 43% of attendees team for free. So we spend most of our time just getting scholarship funds to cover the costs for everybody. But what’s really unique about our conferences and our cohort is that they’re all led — all of the sessions are led by people with lived experience and disability. So there’s this different, there’s this, there’s leveling of lived experience being on par with professional experience and educational experience that I think is one of the most important challenges that we’re trying to break open. And then I think we’re about to launch two new podcasts, I think.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Oh, wow. Nice.

John Orr: They’re just exploring topics. We want to talk to a number of people with disabilities serving on boards and what that experience has been like. What were the barriers? Let’s just talk about it openly to change the way that maybe boards operate and increase representation. So there’s a ton of stuff out there. And then, there’s a bunch of other great books. Emily Liddell’s book “Demystifying Disability” — Amazing. Everyone should just read it. It’s incredible.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. I’ll add that one to my list. Yeah. That’s great. So we’ve come to the end. So we have one final question which we ask all of our guests, which is our CI to Eye moment. So if you could broadcast one message to executive directors, leadership teams, staff and boards of thousands of arts organizations, what would it be?

John Orr: You have to be accessible and you should ask your community that’s around you how to do it. I think there’s a lot of people out there who think, oh, my site is older. We predate the ADA. It doesn’t apply to us. We’re grandfathered in. Number one, nobody is grandfathered into violating a civil rights law. And that’s what it is. It’s a civil rights law that guarantees a human right. If you want to be accessible, talk to your community. Let them lead. Let them be not just a part of that conversation. Let them drive that conversation, because otherwise you’re not going to get as far as you could.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. Beautifully said. John, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for being here. It’s been so lovely.

John Orr: Yeah, this was great. I’ll come back anytime. This was wonderful.

Priya Iyer Doshi: Thank you.

John Orr: Yeah. Thank you.

Dan Titmuss: And now it’s time for CI-lebrity Sightings. You get it? It’s like our name in “celebrity sightings.” Anytime we can torture a pun, we love to. Here are some of our favorite news stories featuring CI clients in 60 seconds or less. Start the timer. Round of applause for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which was featured in the New York Times for increasing its proportion of BIPOC attendees from 15% in 2015 to 57% in 2022 and 2023. Read all about it in the article titled “At Museums A Revolution Gains Momentum.” And snaps to Atlanta’s Alliance Theater and Chicago’s Goodman Theater for being featured in American Theater Magazine’s article, “They Will Survive: Theaters That Are Beating The Odds.” And finally cheers the New York City Ballet for their coverage in the Associated Press about their changing audience demographics. In 2023, 53% of ticket buyers were under the age of 50, compared to 41% of ticket buyers in 2018. We’re so proud of these clients for their unprecedented audience growth and commitment to engaging new audiences. Got a story that deserves a shout out? Well, tag us on social and let us know. Who knows? You might be featured in the next episode of CI-lebrity Sightings! CI. Capacity Interactive. ‘Lebrity Sightings. CI-lebrity. The pun works!

Thank you for listening to CI to Eye. This episode was edited and produced by Karen McConarty and co-written by Karen McConarty and myself, Dan Titmuss. Stephanie Medina and Jess Berube are CI to Eye’s designers and video editors and all work together to create CI’s digital content. Our music is by whoisuzo. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please take a moment to rate us or leave a review. A nice comment goes a long way in helping other people discover CI to Eye and hear from experts in the arts and beyond. If you didn’t enjoy today’s episode, pass it on to all of your enemies. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and TikTok for regular content to help you market smarter. You can also sign up for our newsletter at so you never miss an update. And if you haven’t already, please click the subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, stay nerdy.

About Our Guests
John Orr
John Orr
Executive Director, Art-Reach

John Orr is the Executive Director of Art-Reach in Philadelphia. Under his leadership, Art-Reach has experienced unprecedented growth in terms of programmatic impact and revenue. During his tenure, Art-Reach has been recognized with the PNC Arts Alive Award for Arts Innovation in Honor of Peggy Amsterdam; Arts and Culture Award from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations; Philebrity Nonprofit of the Year Award, the Impact100 Philadelphia Award, and the Designing Leadership Award. In 2018, Orr was appointed by the Mayor of Philadelphia to serve on the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities. Additionally, Orr was one of 100 people in the country identified by TIAA as a Difference Maker 100 in their 2018 national competition. Other national recognition includes the Ovation Stand for the Arts Award (2019), and the Leadership Exchange for Art and Disability Community Asset Award (2019). Previously, Orr worked with the Franklin Institute, Academy of Natural Sciences, Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania, Fleisher Art Memorial, and the Science History Institute. Orr is a past-President and former board member of the Museum Council of Greater Philadelphia. A Philadelphia native, Orr is committed to making his city one of the most accessible arts cities in the country.

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Selia Aponte
Selia Aponte
Senior Analyst, Capacity Interactive

Selia joined Capacity Interactive after graduating with an MBA & MA in arts administration and started her role as a Senior Analyst after working as an arts marketer in Cincinnati and Los Angeles. Selia’s work extends across Digital Marketing and SEO; she loves partnering with clients in both areas to help create holistic, user-focused strategies.

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