Lincoln Center Launches Arts Festival for Children with Autism

The Big Umbrella Festival in New York City | New Theater, Conference for Families with Kids on Autism Spectrum

Lincoln Center is making headlines in the New York City special needs community. The iconic cultural institution is launching the "Big Umbrella Festival," a month of arts programming dedicated to autistic kids and their families. The inaugural festival is set to take over stages on the cultural campus and at local schools in April 2018, Autism Awareness Month.

The stated mission is to "enrich the lives of children on the autism spectrum through inclusive art that engages, educates, and inspires." While still a year away, the monthlong festival is surely a welcome addition to city's existing cultural programs for kids with autism.

Organized by Lincoln Center Education (LCE), the festival is an extension of the organization's ongoing investment to bring its deep art expertise to new audiences, including the outer boroughs with its Boro-Linc program and to audiences with special needs that might require a tweak to traditional formats. 

Its 2015 show Up and Away was created specifically for audiences on the spectrum, for example, rather than just adapted for sensory-sensitive children. Lincoln Center followed up that success with this season's Campfire, which utilized the same model. Both productions included an adjacent quiet room for those who needed a break from the action. 

RELATED: Manhattan Sensory Gyms for Kids with Disabilities

Sensorium's Oddysea, a multi-sensory show, will be part of the Big Umbrella Festival. 

Though details are still being finalized, the Big Umbrella Festival is expected to run from April 9-May 6, 2018. It will feature an encore performance of Up and Away, which sold out its initial and extended runs in 48 hours. All told, the show played to the delight of 1,500 fans. Joining Up and Away as headliners will be U.K.-based theater company Oily Cart, playing the North American debut of Light Show, and Australia's Sensorium, presenting an oceanic sensory journey in Oddysea. Oily Cart is no stranger to the Lincoln Center stage, either, as the troupe is playing its In A Pickle there this month.

The Big Umbrella Festival's arts education will extend beyond the stage, too. As part of the festival, LCE will conduct a symposium for members of the arts community, where artists, arts administrators, and presenters can partake in professional development opportunities all geared toward addressing the topic of neurodiversity in arts programming.

"We believe the arts can be transformational and that every child should have access to a quality arts education," said Russell Granet, executive VP of Lincoln Center Education, in a statement announcing the festival. "Our past performances for children on the autism spectrum have made a notable positive impact on our young audiences, and we hope Big Umbrella will be a safe space where they can continue to find and create lasting meaning through tailored programs."

For more information on the Big Umbrella Festival, and to register for email alerts about its programming, visit the website.

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Top photo: Up and Away. Photo by Alexis Buatti-Ramos/courtesy of Lincoln Center.

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