Accessibility Innovation in Media and Creative Arts

Accessibility Innovation in the Arts (Part One)

Image: Close up image of a Microphone on stage against a background of auditorium.


American Sign Language (ASL) is being used to interpret live music, performance, theatre, dance and poetry on stage. In this section, we will revisit artist Christine Sun Kim (from Module Two) and learn about her latest artwork, Elevator Pitch, at Music Box Village in New Orleans. Relaxed performance and accessible music performance make theatre, symphony and music events more inclusive to a variety of audiences and you will be introduced to these practices in the U.K., Europe, and in Canada.

Deepening Your Understanding

The range of options continues to expand and diversify when it comes to offering new ways to provide access in the arts. In this section, we’ll explore American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation in live music and poetry and an inclusive and interactive sound structure by Christine Sun Kim in collaboration with musician Rick Snow and New Orleans Airlift.

Interpreting Music & Lyrics

There are a number of American Sign Language interpreters who specialize in the performing arts including Amber Galloway Gallego, who interprets music and lyrics for people at live music festivals and concerts. She has interpreted performances for more than 400 musicians to date, including Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Arcade Fire and Cindy Lauper (Caswell, 2017).

ASL Poetry Slam

ASL Slam was founded in 2005 with a mission to provide a space for literary and performing artists in the Deaf community to present poetry, performance art, literature, visual art and music for live audiences (ASL Slam, n.d.). ASL Slam performances happen monthly in a variety of venues in a number of U.S cities and beyond. For example, in May, 2016, the Whitney Museum in New York City partnered with ASL Slam to present experimental forms of sign language as a response to the exhibit, Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection. Using literary and visual prompts from the portrait collection, Deaf and hearing ASL speakers and interpreters collaborated, improvised and created poetry and stories using sign language (Whitney Museum, 2016).

Christine Sun-Kim’s interactive sound structure Elevator Pitch

image of Christine Sun-Kim demonstrating the interactive sound structure.

Artist Christine Sun Kim collaborated with New Orleans Airliftopen new window and local musician Rick Snowopen new window to create Elevator Pitch, an interactive sound structure in Music Box Villageopen new window, with buttons you can press that feature the voices of 13 people from the local Deaf community (Staes, 2019).

New Orleans Airlift is an artist-driven initiative that was developed in response to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, a disaster that left local artists and musicians struggling to make a living. Music Box village, located in Bywater, New Orleans, is an artist-built sculpture garden, where each tiny house is a musical instrument built for audiences to play and explore (New Orleans Airlift, 2019).

Elevator Pitch explores how music can be created and experienced by Deaf and hearing communities together). Elevator Pitch is inspired by Kim’s childhood memories of crowding elevators with her Deaf friends and shouting so loudly that they could feel the vibrations of one another’s voices. Elevators are often known to hearing people as sites of “awkward silence,” thus the concept of this installation challenges when and where various people have a voice. Christine Sun Kim approaches Elevator Pitch by investigating how Deaf communities of New Orleans experience a city deeply defined by music by highlighting how Deaf people are vital to this culture of sound. (Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, 2019)