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Music for All

New fest celebrates our differences

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LOUD AND PROUD Vocal Alchemy choir members Riley Borges and Devon Perkins, left to right, lends her voice to the Inclusive Festival. - JILL NEWMAN
  • Jill Newman
  • LOUD AND PROUD Vocal Alchemy choir members Riley Borges and Devon Perkins, left to right, lends her voice to the Inclusive Festival.

Santa Rosa's Arlene Francis Center has seen all manner of music festivals in its time, though nothing quite like the Inclusion Festival, which debuts May 12.

The event is the brainchild of special-needs educator Emily Parker, a Sonoma County native currently working at a private preschool with a model of "full inclusion." Rather than placing students with disabilities in separate classrooms, the practice of inclusion integrates those students into a regular class setting.

"Full inclusion is a great model for everybody to show their strengths and participate in all aspects of education and community life," Parker says.

Beyond the classroom, Parker is also interested in designing networks of resources for individuals with special needs, and says the idea of inclusion can and should spread to community events as well. "We have a diverse 'neurotypical' community," she says. "People who need different things to feel comfortable at a concert, for example."

After learning about a music festival in Europe that catered to individuals with special needs, Parker was inspired to create the Inclusion Festival to give the local community a day of creative fun with all the necessary sensory accommodations.

The Inclusion Festival will offer a full day of live music and dancing, with interactive art projects, group drumming and a sensory buffet packed with tactile experiences, fidget toys and ear protection for patrons to use.

The main stage lineup includes a variety of performers, including Polynesian dancers, Vocal Alchemy special-needs choir, Bay Area indie-jazz outfit Nassab and the Sheep, and Santa Rosa–based Americana songwriter Karen Shook.

On the patio, a silent disco will feature several local DJs spinning music that's wirelessly tapped directly into special headphones. The venue's classroom space will host an expressive art experience led by local nonprofit Alchemia, which specializes in art-based therapy for adults with developmental disabilities. Food, beer and wine will be available, and the event will have volunteers on hand to help guide patrons through the day.

"I'm hoping that everyone can come and have something that speaks to them," Parker says. "We're keeping it inclusive."

The Inclusion Festival takes place on Saturday, May 12, at Arlene Francis Center, 99 Sixth St., Santa Rosa. 3–9pm. $10–$25 sliding scale. 707.528.3009.

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