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Audiences Unlimited expands mission to serve all ages

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For more about Audiences Unlimited, go to www.audiencesunlimited.org.

The nonprofit will continue to provide entertainment and cultural experiences for people in long-term care facilities

Friday, October 18, 2013 - 6:26 am

Audiences Unlimited is removing its self-imposed limit, adopting a new mission that includes serving people of all ages.

For the past 42 years, the nonprofit organization has focused on providing entertainment and cultural experiences for mostly elderly people in long-term care facilities in Allen County and northeast Indiana.

That has included transporting people to local venues for concerts, plays and other entertainment, and hiring performers to entertain in area long-term care facilities.

The organization announced Thursday it has adopted a new mission statement to create “cultural experiences that enrich the lives of people with limited access to the arts,” regardless of age.

“It really expands our options,” said Anna Ross, the organization's managing director.

Programming expansion will require more funding, Ross said, but the organization's board of directors has committed to raising the money.

Audiences Unlimited will continue providing entertainment opportunities for people in long-term care, she said. As in the past, that programming will be coordinated by Lillian Embick, the organization's founder and longtime volunteer executive director.

Audiences Unlimited also will move Nov. 5 to new offices in the former Witmer Hall at The Summit, the former Taylor University-Fort Wayne campus at 1025 W. Rudisill Blvd.

The organization currently has four to five people working out of its one room in the C.A.N.I. building at 227 E. Washington Blvd., Ross said. The close proximity of staff and volunteers can create distractions.

The new space will offer a large reception/office room, two separate offices and storage space, she said.

Others in the arts community see potential benefits to Audiences Unlimited's new focus.

The organization can have a “profound role” in helping people of all types with access to arts and cultural activities, said Susan Mendenhall, director of resource development at Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne.

Audiences Unlimited is a regional arts partner in Arts United, which provides funding for member organizations and helps develop, coordinate and support the arts in northeast Indiana.

Lack of funds or transportation, mental or physical disability, or other issues all could be barriers to someone having access to and enjoying the arts, Mendenhall said.

No access to transportation and limited finances typically prevent people with disabilities from attending arts events, said Allison Ballard, director of the Jesters program, which offers people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to explore and enjoy creative expression and social time.

Ballard also is director of the Fort Wayne Taiko drum group, an outreach artist performing through Fort Wayne Dance Collective and a grant writer for various organizations.

She believes some organizations are willing to reach out to people with disabilities, but they may lack the know-how or resources to do so. If Audiences Unlimited can help those organizations become accessible, it would be “really, really helpful.”

Ross said Audiences Unlimited hasn't determined exactly what new programming it will offer. A committee will begin meeting Nov. 1 to analyze community needs and possible partnerships with other organizations.

She hopes by spring they can announce some basic programs providing access to music and dance. She wants to launch more in-depth programs by next fall.

One option she would like to pursue is working with an organization serving people with disabilities. Audiences Unlimited could provide a six-week arts component within the host organization's normal programming for its clients.

She also said Audiences Unlimited will explore collaborative programming with two social-service agencies that share its new building — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, which works with youth, and Pathfinder Services, which serves people with disabilities and other challenges.