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MAC plans address accessibility
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MONROE - Chris Wellington is a Monroe Arts Center (MAC) board member and regularly attends meetings held in Wesley Hall. Wendy Weiler Erb is also a board member and also faithfully attends the meetings. In addition, Wellington has attended literally hundreds of gallery exhibits, performances and special events held in the MAC's historic facility. Erb has been in the acoustically resplendent concert hall just twice during her 12 years in Monroe. The difference? Wellington can walk up the stairs to the concert hall. Erb cannot. She's been in a wheelchair since an automobile accident 20 years ago.

MAC Is Not Accessible

Erb and husband, Bob, moved here with their family 12 years ago. Her husband and daughters began attending performances at the arts center and share their experiences with her afterward. As her daughters grew, they gave piano recitals and acted in theater productions at MAC, which Erb didn't want to miss. But she has agreed only twice to be carried up the stairs - once for a piano recital and once for a theatrical performance. "I have missed out on many enjoyable events because being carried up the stairs was a not a safe and comfortable option for me," Erb said, adding that she feared not only for her own safety, but for those muscling her up the stairs. There's also the question of maintaining dignity. Erb said it is quite a spectacle to be carried into the MAC concert hall and sometimes she's OK with that. Most of the time, she's not.

"I think about others in Monroe who can't attend MAC performances because they've long given up trying to make the trek up the stairs into the concert hall or refuse to compromise their dignity by being carried," Erb said. Erb has questioned whether anything could be done about the situation. She's found that although much thought had been given to solving the problem, solutions that preserved the building's architectural integrity and provided broad accessibility were illusive. She joined the MAC Board and its Building and Grounds committee two years ago to lend both her legal and personal perspectives to the accessibility project. "Making the MAC accessible should be done well and done right," said Erb. "It should preserve the architectural significance of the building and be welcoming to absolutely everyone. The new building plan is able to combine both."

Wellington said she has known Erb for 10 years and always admired her positive attitude and willingness to help others. It was while watching Monroe Theater Guild's 2008 production of "A Christmas Carol" on the MAC stage that the accessibility problem became very vivid and very personal for Wellington. "That evening, as I watched the Erb girls perform, I noticed that Wendy wasn't present," Wellington said. "I realized with sadness that she wasn't able to get upstairs to sit in the performance hall.

"As I sat there, I imagined the frustration Wendy must feel - the building prevented her from fully sharing her daughters' experience," added Wellington.

Erb affirms that having a disability can be isolating and notes that whether a person uses a mobility device or has other special needs, the MAC's lack of accessibility prevents everyone from participating in its many cultural events. She said the new addition MAC has planned, however, would include an elevator, new accessible restrooms on the upper and lower floors, and easily accessed gallery and gathering areas.

"The design will make it very welcoming for everyone, from those with mobility issues to parents with small children in strollers," Erb said. Friends and arts advocates, Erb and Wellington are active in the planning of the accessible addition and fundraising for MAC's Legacy Capital Campaign.

The Legacy Campaign

After years of research and planning, the MAC quietly began The Legacy Campaign seeking to raise $3.5 million to rehabilitate the church and parsonage buildings. A recent gift of $250,000 by Chuck and Chris Wellington has provided inspiration and impetus to the campaign, according to Richard Daniels, MAC's Executive Director.

"The Monroe Arts Center is now poised to appeal to the community and region to commit to this project," Daniels said.

Erb and Wellington agree that making MAC accessible is important to Monroe and the region: It's the right thing to do, they said, and having an arts center of this caliber strengthens the community.

Community Asset

"The MAC is important for local businesses as they recruit new employees and bring new families to Monroe," said Erb. "New families strengthen our schools and local economy."

She added, "It's not acceptable to turn away community members, family members or visitors because we don't have complete accessibility to our most important, gathering venue."

Wellington echoes this sentiment and believes the arts are for everyone and that every community member should be able to participate fully in the musical and artistic experiences that MAC offers. "It's the arts that celebrate our humanness and enliven us," she said. "Communities come together around the joy of color, form and musical expression. It's the community's responsibility to make this experience possible for all."

For more information about the project, contact co-chairs Kevin Callahan, (608) 325-3613, Ron Spielman, (608) 324-1093, Chris Wellington, (608) 325-6225 or Dave Babler, (608) 328-4235. Daniels may be reached at (608) 325-5700 or (888) 596-1249.

- Judy Knudtson, Monroe, is a volunteer at

Monroe Arts Center