Art Ability Bags and Access

Michelle Carlson, Education Director

Art Has No Barriers Art Ability Bags is Celebrating 1 year!

I am excited to share that Art Has No Barriers Art Ability Bags is celebrating 1 year of accessible art making.  I am thankful that I have been a part of the development and coordination of this incredible collaborative project through my work as the Education Director at Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center. This work has a special place in my heart because growing up I witnessed the challenges my grandparents experienced. My paternal grandparents were both deaf and were sometimes isolated and faced a number of challenges. My grandparents were so special to me and a big part of my life, they instilled in me the importance to include all people in the work I do. 

Great Beginnings

The Art Ability Bag project began a little over a year ago with an idea of Cathy Blatnik’s, President, Mid-Michigan Autism Association. Cathy saw a need in the disability community she was working with. The pandemic was especially isolating  for this population and she wanted to do something about it.  Cathy contacted the gallery and pitched her idea to us. Cathy and I then met several times and developed what is now Art Ability Bags, as a part of our Art Has No Barriers programming. Each Art Ability Bag is free to those who register and contains the materials, directions and a how-to video to make one art project. Thanks for the work of Gabby Naula-Quintero BCBA & LBA, as well as our two amazing interns, Sam Carter and Cole Dzubak, we have distributed over 300 Art Ability Bags!

We “look for the helpers”

Our inclusive and accessible work at the Gallery has been growing and evolving. We continue to learn new ways of working and ways we can be more inclusive.  We are fortunate to have wonderful partners and collaborators in this work, who include:

  • Catherine Tonning-Popowich, local artist who had the idea of the  Art Has No Barriers Program,
  • Impression 5 Science Center to bring art making to their Sensory Friendly events,
  • Peckham Inc. in creating the Art Alliance Program, introduces Peckham Team Members to Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center and our Michigan Artists,
  • Able Eyes, to create 3-D videos of our gallery space that can help people preview the gallery space so they get an idea of what to expect when they arrive. 
  • Mid-Michigan Autism Association & All Faith disABILITIES Ministry in supporting the Art Ability Bag Program

Great Work Continues.

Some other accessible programing we have developed, includes:

  • Brown Bag Lunch Virtual Artist Talks, featuring exhibiting artists
  • ArtPath Artist Talks, held on the Lansing River Trail
  • Virtual Galleries of student artwork from Art Scholarship Alert and Ingham Student Art Exhibit Virtual art making workshops
  • Online Retail Gallery
  • Outdoor Pop-Up Shops

Lessons Learned

The interesting thing about all of these programs that we have developed, many in response to the pandemic, is that we were looking for ways to reach and engage with people.  The wonderful thing is that we did reach our community but we also reached a new audience. We were able to create connections while we were all in our homes and allowed people, who could not normally come to the Gallery, to participate in our programing. In reality during the pandemic we all experienced what many people with disabilities go through on a daily basis. The lesson learned is: programing for access is good for all people all the time.

Learn more about our education programs by visiting or contact Michelle Carlson at

Leave a Comment