Art flows among people, syncing individuals through craft. When that connection is free of real-world roadblocks and available for everyone to experience, art has truly achieved accessibility.

From performing arts like ballet and theater to painting and installations, the FM community continues to cultivate arts access across the board.

These are just three of the opportunities available right now for people with sensory impairments, developmental disabilities or other special needs.

”Artist First” Juried Exhibit with the Historical & Cultural Society of Clay County

Accessibility consultant Sherry Shirek with Arts Access for All is familiar with the challenges of enjoying art, explaining, “If you don’t have access, you’re not going to have the same experience.”

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Even before she lost her sight 30 years ago, Shirek was working to make the world more accessible. As a kid she worked in a home for adults with disabilities. Today, she uses more than 25 years of experience to find ways to innovate around impairment.

Coming to the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead next year, “Artist First” aims to engage with disabled artists and create art with accessibility in mind from the start.

The project was made possible in part by a grant from the Lake Region Arts Council and made available through a Minnesota State Legislative appropriation.

“It’s important to think about the person and artist first, not the disability,” Shirek says. “Part of this is to give people with disabilities an opportunity to show their work, but it’s also to try and integrate accessibility into the arts community.”

Currently accepting applications through Nov. 18, “Artist First” will present the culturally diverse talents and skills of emerging and established artists in our community who identify as having a disability. It offers a way to break through misconception and demonstrate what a truly accessible art exhibit looks like.

FM Ballet’s Relevé Dance Classes

Another resource connecting people through art is called Relevé. It’s a new outreach program from the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet offering classes to people with disabilities designed to utilize physical and occupational therapy exercises combined with dance steps and rhythmic beats.

Director of the new program called Relevé, Karly Pierce Lystad explains the program “puts a new twist on ongoing therapies” and creates a network for dancers age 5 to adults.

Currently accepting applicants, the program is in their second week out of a six-week run,” Pierce Lystad says. “Each adaptive course is 50 minutes and includes a variety of styles from hip-hop, jazz and ballet. We even have volunteers from the F-M Ballet who participate in the class.”

Relevé Director Karly Pierce-Lystad leads an adaptive dance class with members of the F-M Ballet. Special to The Forum
Relevé Director Karly Pierce-Lystad leads an adaptive dance class with members of the F-M Ballet. Special to The Forum

Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s Sensory Friendly Programming

In an effort spanning more than 20 years, Karla Pederson has been working with the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre (FMCT) to offer live audio descriptions of local productions.

“I thought it was important to recognize her years of dedication to the blind community,” says Shirek, who organized a party for Pederson.

Committed to increasing access and inclusion for the community, FMCT offers unique adaptations for children and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders and other sensory, social or cognitive disabilities. The organization was the first to bring audio descriptions to the area with Pederson getting involved from the very start.

“He said without my description, he would be lost,” Pederson explains about one of her first reactions from an audience member. “So, it makes a difference because what audio description does is make a play — which for someone who is blind is like a radio show — it makes that radio show come alive.”

Inclusive arts resources available in Fargo-Moorhead:

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit