The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center celebrates its 20th Anniversary on November 25 with a Keystone Fund contribution of $1 million, generously gifted by longtime supporters of the Center, Barb and Chuck Merry. After careful consideration, the Merrys and the Fox Cities P.A.C. are choosing to use the donation to enhance the Center’s accessibility services. The Center is honored by this generous gift, as it will enhance these services in the present and continue its future growth.
As a community leader in providing accessibility services for live, in-person experiences, the Center has prioritized making the arts accessible for all since its doors opened to the public in 2002. Today, these services include mobility access, open captioning, GalaPro (an app for real time captioning), American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation, assisted listening devices, a T-coil hearing loop system for the ticket office and all seats in Thrivent Hall and Kimberly-Clark Theater, programs in large print or Braille and a social story that provides a learning tool for patrons on the autism spectrum. There is also a Parent Suite, a private space for nursing moms, parents, guardians and individuals who may need a safe, quiet space to attend to their children, and so much more. With access to these services and amenities, patrons of the live performing arts with varying abilities and needs are able to fully experience shows or events with ease and comfort.
Since its inception, Barb and Chuck Merry have been committed and dedicated to helping spread the Center’s mission. They have offered an immense amount of support throughout the years, setting new goals in their commitment to the Center. Barb stated, “Over the early years, we came to understand the important role the Fox Cities P.A.C. played in our quality of life in the Fox Cities. It was a perfect walk between realization and philanthropy.”
Both Barb and Chuck currently serve on the Fox Cities P.A.C.’s board of trustees. Barb is also a former member of the board of directors. While serving on the board, she and Chuck helped to launch the Center’s Keystone Fund Campaign in November 2012. This fund was established to support arts in the present and for future generations. Barb also currently provides a vital voice in inviting more patrons with varying abilities to take advantage of accessibility services at the Center. As a patron with hearing loss, Barb felt it impact her enjoyment of the arts. Barb offers a unique and personal perspective in the expansive growth of the accessibility services. After Barb’s hearing loss progressed to a level of requiring hearing aids, her audiologist suggested a partnership with the Fox Cities P.A.C. to install a T-coil hearing loop. As the propelling force behind this undertaking, the Merrys saw the dream realized on August 14, 2012 with the unveiling of the newly installed T-coil hearing loop in the Center’s Thrivent Hall, making the Fox Cities P.A.C. the first Broadway presenting theater in Wisconsin to offer this technology.
“Anyone, regardless of background, experience or ability should feel welcomed by available services that enhance their experience. That approach is living up to our mission statement – A multicultural gathering place for the community,” Barb remarked. This mission has resonated with other community members, inspiring them to action. The Merrys’ gift is a continuation of a commitment to accessibility by the Fox Cities P.A.C. and is mirrored by other gifts from members of the community including Dave and Kerry Gross, whose generous contributions will also continue to enhance the accessibility services for people of all ages. For multi-generational audiences, the Center offers a sensory-inclusive performance that includes lowered volume, lights on in the theater and other amenities to allow those with sensory needs to enjoy the performance. This performance is available through the Amcor Education Series for students and educators, with a separate performance open to the public.
Through the Merrys’ contribution, the ability to experience live performing arts becomes a reality for people, regardless of ability. Chad Leder, a board member for the Autism Society of the Fox Valley and parent to a child with autism stated, “The Center offers several services that can be very helpful for those with autism.” Chad has assisted in bringing sensory inclusive performances to the Center in the past, and knows the impact that these performances, social stories and the Parent Suite can have for autistic individuals. “Just knowing that these supports are available, if needed, is a big relief for patrons who may or may not need the services, depending on their experience that particular day. Being a part of the live audience, knowing full well that the Fox Cities P.A.C. is looking out for your needs, is a very gratifying experience.”
Looking forward, the Merrys’ generous contribution helps ensure the legacy of the accessibility services at the Fox Cities P.A.C. “With this support, we can build upon the accessibility services offered to welcome and include more members of our community. We are so thankful for the Merrys’ commitment to the Center and its accessibility services,” shared Fox Cities P.A.C. President and CEO Maria Van Laanen. “The Center staff and volunteers will be able to partake in future trainings to learn how best to service and support individuals impacted by memory loss, sensory sensitives and PTSD. Here at the Fox Cities P.A.C., everyone should feel welcome and able to experience the live performing arts.”
To provide community members a chance to learn more about the accessibility services offered, the Fox Cities P.A.C. will host an Accessibility Services Open House in spring 2023 with hands-on experiences offered.
While many accessibility services are always available, others may be provided upon request. For more information, assistance or accommodations not mentioned above, please contact us at (920) 730-3782 or [email protected].