Upstream Arts Teaching Artists and participants dancing

Upstream Arts Teaching Artists and participants dancing at Opportunity Partners, Koch campus (Photo: Tena May Gallivan)


“Tammy’s Case Manager said that Tammy has grown immensely with Upstream Arts; so much so that, after seven years of being known as ‘The Dishwasher Queen,’ Tammy has gone beyond her comfort zone and asked to learn a different work position. [OP] attributes this development to the Upstream Arts class.”

This anecdote comes from a report by Tena May, one of our Teaching Artists, following an Upstream Arts session at Opportunity Partners (OP), an Adult Day Program that, for the past 60 years, has provided social enrichment and innovative career development services to adults with disabilities. Since 2008, Upstream Arts has partnered with OP to advance their mission through our unique arts-based approach.

The Upstream Arts program that OP most frequently requests is The Art of Working. In each session of this program, arts activities (like theatrical role-playing or the creation of a dance) address soft skills vital to the workplace, including focus, cooperation, the ability to be flexible, to receive feedback, and to be a team player. Emphasis is placed on collaboration and “rehearsing” real-life situations that come up in workplace settings. We often see exciting evidence of impact in the lives of participants like Tammy, as skills learned in Upstream Arts empower them to secure, maintain, or take on new responsibilities at work.

Since our inception in 2006, Upstream Arts has partnered with Adult Day Programs like OP to offer programming that uses arts-based strategies to create safe venues for individuals with disabilities to hone social/emotional and communication skills vital to all different areas of life. In recent years, we have begun strategizing with our partners about how we could deepen this work in light of changing priorities and legislation at both the Federal and State levels. In 2013, Minnesota issued its Olmstead Plan, a comprehensive initiative to ensure people with disabilities are living, learning, working, and enjoying life in the most inclusive, integrated setting possible. With the plan has come a move away from adults with disabilities receiving services and working on site at Adult Day Programs to an increased focus on transitioning them to live and work independently in their communities.

While there is good momentum around these structural changes, the shift demands that individuals with disabilities have the social skills and information necessary to be “community-ready” – and also that the wider community be more accessible for individuals with a wide range of disabilities. Yet there is no single blueprint for how this transition will happen.

As we all work together to understand the changes that need to be made, Upstream Arts believes that the arts have a critical role to play in advancing true inclusion. For some individuals with disabilities who have been socially isolated and stigmatized for most of their lives, learning creative new ways to socially connect and navigate community life not only benefits them, but also ripples out to positively affect the many people with whom they interact daily, ultimately impacting the wider community. Equipped with tools, confidence, and new social connections, these individuals are undermining old narratives about disability and helping bring about the systemic changes needed for true inclusion.

To learn more about bringing Upstream Arts to your Adult Day Program or community organization, please contact Julie Guidry, Upstream Arts Executive Director, at (612) 331-4584.