Imagining Cultural Accessibility in New York City

Imagining Cultural Accessibility in New York City

Thursday, July 30, 2015
6 to 8:30pm

Annie Leist,  Infrastructure 1 , 2007

Annie Leist, Infrastructure 1, 2007

On July 30, 2015, The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation hosted a panel discussion at The 8th Floor, 17 W 17th Street, New York City, about how accessibility is defined in the context of art and culture in New York City. The panel brought together visual artist Annie Leist, filmmaker Jason DaSilva, theater director Vallejo Gantner, and architect Robert Piccolo in a dialogue about the ways that institutions, artists, policy makers, and activists support greater access to New York City’s vast cultural resources including visual art, architecture, and performing arts. Panelists explored how degrees of disability interface with the experiential aspects of cultural institutions, and how human interdependencies can facilitate cultural access.

Moderated by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation’s Artistic Director Sara Reisman, this conversation was part of a month-long celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), presented in partnership with the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.


Jason DaSilva has been a prolific artist and filmmaker for the past 15 years. He has directed four short films (Olivia’s Puzzle, A Song for Daniel, Twins of Mankala, and First Steps) and two feature-length documentary films (Lest We Forget and When I Walk). Olivia’s Puzzle premiered at the 2003 Sundance Festival and many of his films won awards. Three of his films have had national broadcasts on PBS, HBO, and CBC. He also produced Shocking and Awful, a film installation on the anti-Iraq War movement that was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Each one of these works advanced DaSilva’s objective to give a voice to those on the periphery of society. In 2006, Jason earned his MFA in Applied Media Arts from Emily Carr University.  He recently produced and directed an Op-Doc (opinion documentary) for the New York Times called The Long Wait, published in January 2013. DaSilva’s latest film, When I Walk, was an Official Selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won Best Canadian Feature at HotDocs 2013. The film was the season opener for the PBS/POV 2014 season and it receives an encore presentation on August 10th, 2015. He currently lives in Long Island City, Queens, New York where he works full time on the promotion of AXSMap and new film projects.

Vallejo Gantner has been Artistic Director of Performance Space 122 since 2005. Previously, he was Director of the Dublin Fringe Festival from 2002 – 2004, and Artistic Associate of the Melbourne Festival 2000 – 2001. Originally from Melbourne, Vallejo has worked in a range of capacities throughout the arts in the US, Asia and Australia – as a director, writer, performer, agent, producer and programmer. He co-produced Spiegelworld from 2006-2008— a commercial producer/presenter of contemporary circus, cabaret, and music across the US. More recently he has performed in “The Curator’s Piece” by Tea Tupajic and Petra Zanki across Europe and in New York; executive produced the hit indie feature films “Your Sister’s Sister” and “Touchy Feely” by Lynn Shelton, and the upcoming “Men Go To Battle” by Zachary Treitz and Kate Lyn Sheil; and directed a new concert performance at the Irish Arts Center by composer/singer Julie Feeney. He is a partner in a micro-brewery – Mountain Goat Beer in Australia, and in 2006, he was a Deakin Lecturer in Melbourne.   Vallejo also sits on the board of directors of the National Performance Network (USA), Jianguo Pty Ltd (Aus), and Four Winds Foundation (Aus).

Annie Leist is an artist who was born and raised in North Carolina, and currently is based in New York City.  She pursued undergraduate study at Wake Forest University, double-majoring in studio art and mathematics.  As a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar she studied semiotics and cultural theory at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.  She went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual art from Rutgers University.  Her paintings, inspired by her limited visual perception of light and life in urban spaces, can be seen in numerous public and private collections. In parallel with her artistic career, Leist works in the accessibility field, specializing in enriching the cultural experiences of people with disabilities, and has significant expertise in working with individuals with vision loss.  She has consulted with, and facilitated trainings at several institutions, including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston,the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston; the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.  She has a particular interest in the role that existing and emerging technology can play in improving accessibility for all groups. Leist currently serves as Special Projects Lead at the New York-based nonprofit Art Beyond Sight, where she leads its consultancy and training arm and spearheads initiatives related to accessibility and inclusion in contemporary visual art.

Robert Piccolo is the first Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Piccolo is an accessibility and inclusive design expert; author of the ICC Inclusive Design Guidelines, New York City; voting member of the New York City Building Code Management Committee; Alt-Chair of the 2014 New York City Building Code Accessibility Technical Committee; Co-Chair of the 2008 New York City Building Code Accessibility Technical Committee; contributor to three Center for Active Design publications; contributor to the Department of Transportation’s Street Design Manual; participant in myriad projects and initiatives spanning over 30 years including: Vision Zero, Housing New York, and LinkNYC. He has extensive experience involving several thousand projects and participation in some of the most significant works in New York City, such as, the World Trade Center Memorial, the Highline, and Governors Island Park. Piccolo holds a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University, is a registered architect in the State of New York, nationally certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and is a member of the American Institute of Architects.