The Lehigh Valley Arts Council aims to highlight the arts and cultural organizations in the community. Some of the things they do include offering grants and training programs to teach art, through performance or exhibits, to those with disabilities. (Courtesy of Lehigh Valley Arts Council)

The Lehigh Valley Arts Center connects with the community through art

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The Lehigh Valley Arts Center (LVAC) strives to inspire inclusivity among the community by highlighting the arts and making them as accessible as possible to everyone interested. 

“The Lehigh Valley Arts Council’s mission is primarily to promote the value of the arts, foster collaboration within the community, amongst individuals and organizations, to encourage arts engagement for all members of the community and to ensure that they all have access to the arts,” said Danielle Kulnis, president of the LVAC.

However, the LVAC hasn’t always had a clear vision of its brand. 

Ann Lalik, Penn State Lehigh Valley Gallery director and arts coordinator, said the LVAC had functioned as an “umbrella organization,” supporting other arts and cultural organizations.

“The Lehigh Valley Arts Council is a council for everybody to support everybody and sometimes it’s hard to define who you are then,” Lalik said. 

The LVAC tries to make their programs as inclusive as possible, such as through their Arts and Access Always Program, which aims to bolster engagement with the disabled community. The program began as a year-long initiative that later became part of the permanent programming. 

Kulnis said the LVAC incentivizes other arts and cultural organizations throughout the Lehigh Valley by offering grants and training programs to teach art or through performance or exhibits, for those with disabilities.

In 2020, the LVAC partnered with PBS39 to produce a documentary about the organization’s efforts to increase arts accessibility to the disabled community.  

Lalik said the LVAC had also been the “local funding stream for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts” up until 2020. 

“The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, in the whole state of Pennsylvania, awards funds to artists and arts organizations,” Lalik said. “And LVAC was the local chapter who would help determine who would get awards and who would get funding and would often help artists understand how to apply for funding through the Pennsylvania Council on the arts.” 

Todd Watkins, Lehigh professor and LVAC treasurer, said every five years, the arts council has participated in a national data collection process to assess the role of the arts in the region’s economy. He said the collection got put on hold this year and they’re hoping to start it up again soon. 

Watkins said this process provided promotional opportunities for artists and helped garner arts funding for the region.

The LVAC aims to cater to the community’s youth through their event “Young at Art,” which is a one-day expo that introduces children to various arts forms. 

Watkins said the event exposes children to potential summer activities, as families are welcome to come and learn about summer programs revolving around the arts, such as music and dance.

The event is typically scheduled for March, but due to COVID-19, LVAC plans to host the event in the following year. 

Though the pandemic has shifted how the LVAC conducts events, Watkins said the membership base and event attendance has been relatively steady. 

LVAC offers memberships to students, individuals and organizations at proportional prices to ensure equitable access to benefits. 

Part of the membership benefits include an ARTix Passport to the Arts –a buy one, get one offer that grants access to 20 partnered organizations such as the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and the Zoellner Arts Center. 

“Beyond membership, we are always looking for volunteers who can get involved, whether that’s assisting with member events, ‘Young at Art,’ the ‘Champions of Inclusion event,’” Kulnis said.

While COVID-19 has caused the LVAC to make organizational changes, Lalik said they will always prioritize its mission statement.

“The future is really going to be cool and bright and different,” Watkins said. “Change is afoot.”

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