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Jun. 2nd ALL RISE: Court Dance – September premiere at Shakespeare & Company

Produced by Community Access to the Arts
Directed by Dawn Lane

Cast: Lorimer Burns, Dawn Lane, Leslie Nelson, Kelsey MacEachern, Diane Prusha, Olivia Wilber and members of CATA’s Moving Company

When: September 24, 25, 26 at 8 p.m.
Where: Tina Packer Playhouse at Shakespeare & Co. 70 Kemble St. Lenox, MA
Tickets: General seating; $30 at the box office, $34.50 if purchased online.

To purchase tickets online click here.

All RISE: Court Dance is a new dance work that uses the structures, procedures and protocols of the judicial system as a source for choreography.  The hour-long work will feature a core cast of 6 dancers and an additional cast of 6 dancers with physical and/or developmental disabilities. The inclusion of mixed ability dancers underlines Lane’s commitment to the democracy of art.  The work will include a sound score by Allison O’Brien, a set that is constructed and deconstructed by the dancers as well as a video projections by Joe Wheaton.

“ALLRISE: Court Dance is a new dance work influenced by three experiences I had in a courtroom.  One as a juror, one as a witness, and one as an assistant to a victim with disabilities.  In all three cases, I participated with an open mind, excited and eager to engage in a process that represented the essence of our country.  In all three cases I was left disenchanted. In the courtroom I was powerless to impart my judgement, BUT I could choreograph work that shared the lens of my experience” – Choreographer, Dawn Lane

ALLRISE: Court Dance was created in part during a Creative Development Residency with support from the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award Initiative and will be produced by Community Access to the Arts.

Community Access to the Arts (CATA) nurtures and celebrates the creativity of people with disabilities through shared experiences in the visual and performing arts.

Dawn Lane, Choreographer & Dancer, Dawn’s award-winning choreography has been funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, the Cottonwood Foundation and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. She is a recent recipient of a second Creative Development Residency from Jacob’s Pillow to develop a new work, ALLRISE: Court Dance.   Her choreography has been performed at The Harman Center for the Arts, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, The Unicorn Theatre, Massachusetts College of Art & Design, Boston Conservatory and The Egg. Dawn holds a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and a M.Ed. fromLesley

Photo Credit: David Benson

Mar. 23rd Call for Sponsors!

CATA’s performing artists are now in rehearsal for Ready, Willing & Able, our annual performance on May 16 & 17 at Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse.

This joyful showcase performance is the main way CATA’s work is shared with 700 members of our community. It’s the highlight of the year for our performers with disabilities, our faculty and our supporters, made possible by underwriting from local businesses and individuals like you.

If you would like to help us shine a light on the ABILITIES of our artists and help inspire others to support our work, please consider sponsoring the performance at one of these levels: $1,000, $2,500, or $5,000. Click Here for more information.

Our sponsors receive free tickets to the gala (including cocktails, show, dinner & dancing), and prominent acknowledgement in our program, posters, banners, eblasts, website, Facebook, and select advertising. And, of course, our enormous gratitude for helping to make it all possible.

We also have advertising opportunities in our program. Click Here for more information.

If you have any questions or need more information, please call Liana at (413) 528-5485.

Jan. 12th Berkshire Festival of Women Writers

We’re looking forward to participating in the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. CATA writing faculty Janet Reich Elsbach, Emily Rechnitz and Anamyn Turowski will read the collected thoughts of CATA’s women writers in “How We Look: Self/Reflection.”

How We Look: Self/Reflection

When: March 19, 6:30pm
 CATA Studio 70 Railroad St., Great Barrington

Community Access to the Arts nurtures and celebrates the creativity of people with disabilities through shared experiences in the visual and performing arts. To experience a CATA workshop is to experience the artistry often overlooked in people who are different from us, but it is also a discovery of the common humanity that links us all.  Three writers from the CATA writing program have been in conversation with CATA participant-artists about how we perceive our own looks, how we compare our physical selves to others’, and how we experience looking at and being looked at by the people around us. The reading will offer a revealing picture of women’s sense of their beauty and how it relates to the community around them.

CATA is all about balance, seeking out and celebrating what distinguishes each unique person even as we shine a light on the common thoughts, feelings and ideas that unite us.  How our sense of our physical selves is guided, shaped, challenged by cultural norms and ideals of beauty becomes even more prismatic and intense when considered through the filter of living with difference and disability.


Janet Reich Elsbach thinks and writes about the food she feeds her family on the blog, A Raisin & A Porpoise.  She edits other people’s writing when she can, and this is her third year teaching writing at CATA, where she has been involved for over 20 years.

Emily Rechnitz entered the world of CATA in 1998, as an Art Cart volunteer. She has served as a member of CATA’s board since 2000. Emily received her B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College and a M.A. in Creative Writing from New York University. She has taught poetry writing to children in New Jersey, New York City, and the Berkshires. Her work has appeared in journals and magazines including: The Kansas Quarterly, Mudfish, The New Yorker, and The Southern Poetry Review. This is her third year as a member of CATA’s writing faculty.

Anamyn Turowski was introduced to CATA in 2008 by Janet Elsbach and since then has been having a wonderful time as the Studio Director at CATAdirect, CATA’s weekly crafts cooperative. She studied writing at UCLA and is embarking on her third year as a member of CATA’s writing faculty. She currently also teaches writing at The Writers Studio in NYC. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has a nice stack of rejection letters in her drawer(s).

Oct. 27th CATA Arts Workshops are Underway!

CATA’s new program year has launched! Workshops are now taking place in 32 settings across Berkshire County and in our own Studio in Great Barrington. Read below to get a glimpse of CATA’s day-to-day work through the eyes of an intern as she describes how creativity blooms in a place of mutual respect.

Reflections on CATA’s Moving Company Workshop by Heather Meehan, CATA intern

September 22, 2014

CATA’s Moving Company, led by Dawn Lane, CATA’s Program & Artistic Director, is a class geared specifically towards developing choreography and performance, with a mixed ability group of dancers. Each dancer in the company has been invited personally because of their inherent talent for movement and potential for performance. This class is a stunning reminder of how dance serves as a mode of healing and empowerment. In the moment, since I am viewing these artists up close and getting to know them as individuals, it is easy to forget that this experience, for them, is not a given. When I step back and take the time to remember that, I often find myself overwhelmed by emotion– this experience of movement as an expression of ability, which I can so easily take for granted, is an incredibly precious moment.

Dawn has structured the exercises in her class today, taking inspiration from the language of this year’s theme– “Ready, Willing, and Able.”

During the “able” exercise, we used movement to draw the initials of our full name in space. This exercise was powerfully metaphorical: not only were we using movement as an alternative mode of communication for those who sometimes struggle with verbal expression, but we were also making our presence known. By inscribing our initials in space with our bodies, we make a powerful statement: We are here. We are present. We are ABLE.

Next came the “willing” exercise. Prior to the exercise, which involved mirroring a partner, the class had a discussion of what it means to be willing. We came to the conclusion that willingness involves trust, and an attitude of wanting to try out something new. My partner, a dancer with disabilities, asked if I would be willing to lead and she would mirror. “I trust you, Heather,” she told me. Reflecting upon this moment and the class as a whole, it occurred to me that trust requires trustworthiness and vice versa. My partner trusting me compelled me to be worthy of that trust, and my trustworthiness gave her permission to trust me. In this space of mutual respect, creative possibilities blossom.

This moment of trust, as it plays out on an interpersonal basis, is also integral to CATA’s mission. In all the workshops I have attended thus far, I have noted that CATA Faculty Artists maintain a high artistic standard while remaining responsive to the varying ability levels of the artists they are working with. Each teacher demonstrates her trustworthiness by maintaining these standards while also remaining empathic and attentive to her students. The students respond to this trust by putting in their best effort according to their capabilities. The sense of mutual respect that comes along with this is integral to CATA’s mission, and you can see it demonstrated consistently in every workshop.

Mar. 28th Leadership Transition Underway at Community Access to the Arts

Following a three-year transition process, Margaret Keller to succeed founding director Sandra Newman as leader of pre-eminent arts organization for adults with disabilities

Great Barrington, Mass. (Feb. 10, 2014) – Following a three-year transition and planning process, Sandra Newman will retire from her longtime role as executive director of Community Access to the Arts, and her successor has been named.

Margaret Keller, a Lenox resident, brings 15 years of experience in nonprofits, most recently as foundation relations manager at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. Prior to that, she directed programs at the Chicago Humanities Festival, working closely with the city’s most prominent cultural organizations. In 2002, she was named a Chicagoan of the Year by the Chicago Tribune. She takes over leadership of CATA on Monday, February 10.

Newman will assume the title of founding director and will continue to serve as an ambassador to the organization she founded, bringing the visual and performing arts to people with disabilities throughout the community.

“We are especially grateful to Sandy for her foresight in initiating the transition to new leadership, in a manner that allows her to play a vital role in the selection and mentoring of her successor,” said John J. Whalan, president of CATA’s board of directors. “Sandy has a history of investing in the aspirations and outcome of others, and is particularly suited to mentor and support Margaret.”

Newman established CATA in 1993, and the organization has grown to serve 600 adults throughout Berkshire County with programs in visual arts, dance and public performance.

Under Newman’s leadership CATA was recognized through the region and state for her work. Last year CATA received The Massachusetts Cultural Council’s 2013 Commonwealth Award.

Said Newman, “I am so excited to welcome Margaret, and to have a dynamic and vibrant new leader holding the essence of CATA’s mission and vision into the future, and maintaining our creative approach to enhancing the lives of people we serve.”

Keller added, “Sandy’s vision and leadership have nurtured CATA over its 20-year history and made it one of the most innovative organizations in our community—a jewel of the Berkshires. I am tremendously excited to uphold her legacy, and to bring my own talents to bear so that CATA can continue its trailblazing work.”

Community Access to the Arts nurtures and celebrates the creativity of people with disabilities through shared experiences in the visual and performing arts. For information visit

Mar. 5th CATA Market Bags!

The Great Barrington plastic bag ban took effect on March 1st. We hope the elimination of single-use plastic bags will spur an active market for reusable shopping bags like our signature straw tote designed to carry heavyweight items such as canned goods, melons and gallons of water.

CATA’s sturdy straw tote is adorned with fabric garland handmade by artists with disabilities who earn commission on every bag sold. “It’s the perfect market bag,” says CATA volunteer Maria Sirois, “because it’s large, strong and expands without ripping.” The collection includes short handled and long handled natural straw bags decorated in a variety of garland colors.

To purchase a CATA Market Bag stop by the CATA boutique at 40 Rail Road Street in Great Barrington or Click Here to purchase online!

Dec. 17th Introducing Ruthie Seliktar!

This month, volunteer Claudia Ricci, interviews Ruthie Seliktar (pictured on right with CATA faculty Stefanie Weber), an artist with CATA for around 2 years. Claudia, a professional writer, prize-winning reporter and professor, talks with Ruthie about her interest in dancing (especially Tap), why she loves the Berkshires, her knack for language, and more!

It’s Monday afternoon and Ruthie Seliktar is in a tap dance class in Great Barrington. Wearing wildly colorful leg warmers, Ruthie follows teacher, Stefanie Weber’s lead:

“Scuff-heel-toe; scuff-heel-toe; one-two-three; one-two-three; no pause in between.”

Ruthie smiles as she maneuvers across the floor doing the scuff-heel-toe. The teacher then introduces a four-beat rhythm to the class: “Scuff-heel-toe-heel; scuff-heel-toe-heel; one-two-three-four.

After class, Ruthie explains why she takes the tap dancing class. “I love it,” she says. “I like it because it’s rhythm and beat and it flows and it’s fun and colorful and really exciting.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to become a tap dancer.

“It’s really hard” Ruthie says. “You have to be coordinated.” Ruthie says it helped to watch some of the pros — like Fred Astaire — on video tape. She has also seen a number of live jazz and tap dance shows in New York City.

Tap dance is just one of many classes and workshops that Ruthie attends through CATA, Community Access to the Arts. In addition to the tap class, she is a member of CATA’s Moving Company, a mixed-ability dance company under the direction of choreographer and CATA’s Program & Artistic Director Dawn Lane. She works in CATAdirect on Tuesday, making a variety of craft items to sell to the public. On Wednesdays she attends ARTiculations, a visual art class, and on Thursday she takes part in a drumming workshop, writes highly creative poetry and prose in CATA’s Writer’s Workshop and enjoys yoga with CATA faculty Paula Boyajian.

“I love all of the classes at CATA,” Ruthie says. “I like the teachers and I like the fact that there is never any harsh judgement of your work.”

Petite and energetic, Ruthie smiles a lot and speaks English with a wonderful accent. Born in Israel, Ruthie came to the U.S. when she was 15 years old. She moved to Berkshire county about four years ago, after living for several years in Los Angeles.

“I love it here,” she says. “I love the green it’s calming and much more relaxing.”

She has a gift for languages, and speaks several: English, Spanish, Hebrew, Russian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, German, and Czech.

Ruthie makes a point of calling herself “Ruthie,” and not “Ruth.”

“I feel so good when people call me Ruthie,” she says. “I don’t know why they named me Ruth. When somebody calls me Ruthie, I know that they care.”

At CATA, everyone calls her Ruthie — because everyone cares so much!

Nov. 18th Meet Cathy Marden!

This month, volunteer Claudia Ricci interviews CATA artist Cathy Marden. Claudia, a professional writer, prize-winning reporter and professor, talks with Cathy about her love for art, and what she enjoys most about CATA!

Cathy Marden sits at an art table on Friday morning, surrounded by fellow artists. She is busy putting the finishing touches on a watercolor of the Mount, writer Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts. Cathy – along with other members of CATA (Community Access to the Arts) — had visited The Mount a couple of weeks before, touring the house and gardens and taking away many excellent photos of the historic home.

Cathy’s painting features the house and one prominent feature — the Mount’s many windows. Cathy has done an excellent job portraying the look and the feel of the house. When she finishes her watercolor she gets lots of praise from art teacher Pat Hogan. She also gets a blank piece of paper from Pat, who asks Cathy to paint a second watercolor, this time, a scene from the garden.

Cathy has been coming to CATA in Great Barrington for so long that she can’t quite pinpoint the date (she guesses it’s at least 15 years.) Over those years, Cathy has been a CATA regular, and very enthusiastic about all of CATA’s programming.

“I love being in Pat’s art class on Friday,” she says. “We do a lot of things here, like painting flowers and making T shirts.”

Besides the painting class, Cathy takes Thursday’s music class, followed by a writing workshop, and finally CATA’s yoga class. She also participates in CATA Direct on Tuesday afternoons, when she joins with other CATA artists and volunteers to make items that are sold to raise money for the organization.

Some of Cathy’s art has been used in these cards. One image in particular is very meaningful for Cathy: a charcoal drawing she did of her beloved cat named Ziti. Unfortunately, Ziti developed cancer a couple of months ago and died. When that happened, Cathy was broken-hearted. But she got plenty of love and understanding from the folks at CATA. In particular she singles out CATA staff member Jeff Gagnon’s kindness.

“He was very nice to me after I lost Ziti,” she says. “He helps me out when I’m really upset.” Jeff also helps out with the art class and several other CATA classes, frequently working one on one with the artists offering them encouragement and suggestions.

Cathy is a big hugger. She hugs her teachers, and many of her fellow CATA artists as well as volunteers. She is always ready with her delightful smile, and a rollicking laugh that is infectious.

When asked who her favorite people at CATA, she has a long list that includes several members of the office staff and many teachers.

A native of Long Island, Cathy moved to Great Barrington after attending the Kolbourne School, near Southfield. She left the school after it closed.

Today she lives with two roommates — and a new cat named Patches — in an apartment on West Avenue in Great Barrington. Cathy also has a job, at a company called Berkshire Meadows, and organization in Housatonic that caters to children with disabilities. Cathy’s duties there include house cleaning and working in the kitchen.

Art class is over for the day, so Cathy offers to give a brief tour of the CATA office, where many handcrafted items are for sale. She points to beautiful beaded necklaces and bracelets, and colorful scarves, some of which Cathy helped to adorn with beads. There are also baskets with colorful cloth ruffles, many greeting cards, luggage tags, and one of the biggest sellers: dryer balls. Made from tennis balls, the dryer balls are popular because they keep clothes in motion, thereby reducing the amount of dryer time needed.

Cathy smiles as she surveys all the items that CATA has for sale. She is proud of all the work that she contributes to make these items. Her smile says it best: there is no doubt in the world that Cathy’s life is enriched in so many ways by participating in CATA.

Nov. 12th Fall Newsletter


A PDF of CATA’s latest newsletter is now available online! The current issue of the CATAlog features the latest CATA news, an artist interview, plenty of photographs, and more!

To download the CATAlog Click Here!

Join our mailing list to receive the CATAlog and other great CATA updates at home in your mailbox!

Sep. 25th North Adams Transcript Reports on CATA Art Show

North Adams Transcript reporter Edward Damon wrote an article about CATA’s Art on Tour reception at the Williamstown Youth Center last week. The art show featured a collection of new Artistic Realization Technologies (A.R.T.) paintings by CATA artists with severe physical limitations.

CATA artist Eric Schumann had this to say, “The thing about CATA is that it’s a one-of-a-kind place, nowhere else is there a place like CATA that I know of. I love it.”

To read the full story, Click Here!