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Community Access To The Arts Celebrates Landmark Year This Weekend

A woman stands by an orange and yellow abstract painting in a white walled room.
Josh Landes
Community Access To The Arts CEO Margaret Keller stands beside "Firework Purple," a painting by CATA participant Cathy Crofut.

This weekend, a Great Barrington, Massachusetts nonprofit that offers arts education to the disabled community in the Berkshires and upstate New York holds its annual gala.

Near the heart of downtown Great Barrington are the offices of Community Access To The Arts. In a studio just above the Triplex Cinema, colorful paintings created by CATA participants pop out from the white walls.

“We work with 800 people with disabilities all across Berkshire County and also Columbia County, New York, as well," said Margaret Keller, CATA’s CEO. She’s held the position for six years.

“We’re partnering with residences, dayhabilitation programs, schools, and nursing homes in order to reach as many people with disabilities across our community as possible, to provide them with really powerful arts opportunities,” said the CEO.

The needs of the audience CATA serves range broadly.

“Many of the people that we serve have developmental or intellectual disabilities, many also have physical challenges and physical disabilities as well,” explained Keller.

Many of the people who pay to take CATA courses are adults.

“But we have also really worked to expand in recent years our work with young people with disabilities in the community," Keller told WAMC. "We have really strong partnerships with seven public school districts in Berkshire County so that we can serve students with disabilities – students in special education programs – across Berkshire County. And our work goes all the way from these young people up to elders in our communities, because we also have strong partnerships with six different elder care communities, nursing homes, where we’re serving people with Alzheimer’s and dementia and other challenges.”

Alongside its core of seven fulltime staffers, CATA employs 25 faculty artists who teach programs in everything from painting and drawing to modern dance and theater at the nonprofit’s partners.

“This is CATA’s 26th year, and I’m happy to say that many of our relationships are really longstanding," said Keller. "Some of them date back to the very beginning of CATA in 1993 when our founder, Sandy Newman, began CATA out of her living room.”

Keller says some of CATA’s most important relationships are with the county’s cultural institutions.

“We work with Shakespeare & Company, we work with The Mount, we work with the Clark Art Institute to put on really vibrant, dynamic public art exhibits, performances, and readings that engage our larger community in this work and help to shine a spotlight on the talents of our CATA artists,” she said.

Shakespeare & Company is playing host to this weekend’s gala, which features performances in music, theater, dance, and comedy from over 50 CATA artists. While it’s a big date in the nonprofit’s calendar, it has events scheduled throughout the county all summer long – including a pair of art shows.

“Every single CATA artist who has produced a piece of visual artwork over the course of our program year has a piece that is selected for inclusion in one of those two shows," said Keller. "It’s curated, it’s professionally matted and framed, and exhibited either at the Clark Art Institute or the Lichtenstein Center For The Arts.”

It’s a big year for the nonprofit. For the first time, its yearly operating budget has cracked seven figures, and the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network selected CATA as a finalist for the 2019 Nonprofit Excellence Award in the collaboration category.

“We’re also thinking really hard about facilities, and what we need in order to sustain the work that we’re doing right now, just looking at the growth that we have achieved over the last five, 10 years, and then looking forward," said Keller. "We’re looking at what space do we need to support this work, and we are in the quiet phase of our first ever capital campaign. So we’ll have a lot more to say about that in the next few months.”

In the meantime, CATA’s annual performances take place at 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse in Lenox.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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