Musikfest offers ‘Inclusion Zone’ space for guests with sensory issues

Written by on August 12, 2021

Musikfest offers ‘Inclusion Zone’ space for guests with sensory issues

By Megan Frank

August 12, 2021

The Inclusion Zone offers a relaxation corner, toys and books for guests. Photo | Megan Frank / WLVR

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Concerts can be a challenge for people who become overwhelmed by sounds and crowds. 

Listen to the story.

This year, for the first time ever, ArtsQuest – the group that runs Bethlehem’s Musikfest – is providing a space for guests who need to take a break from all the noise. 

Tucked away in a movie theater on the festival’s South Side is the “Inclusion Zone.” It’s a sensory-support space run by Accessible Festivals

WLVR’s Megan Frank tried out moon mats and noise-canceling headphones with ArtsQuest’s programming director Ryan Hill at Musikfest’s Inclusion Zone. Photo | Megan Frank / WLVR

The nonprofit group helps large events create spaces where people can relax and unwind. 

“Anybody, regardless of ability or disability, may need a break at some point from being in a crowd,” said Leah Barron, programs director for Accessible Festivals. 

While they mainly work with people with autism, Barron says the space is for anyone who needs it. 

Inside the theater, guests will find relaxing nature visuals projected on a movie screen. There’s also a variety of tools and toys for relaxing, like fleecy, weighted lap pads and foam floor mats that make a person feel like they’re getting a hug. 

Relaxing nature videos play on the projector screen at Musikfest’s Inclusion Zone. Photo | Megan Frank / WLVR

“I think that just knowing that you can come to a safe space right away is really powerful,” said Amy Pinder, executive director of Accessible Festivals. “Music festivals tend to be really overwhelming and it can be challenging.”

Spaces like this have been popping up over the past few years at major sporting events, concerts and amusement parks like Sesame Place in Bucks County. 

Barron says people with sensory issues still want to be a part of the fun, but may need something different to have a good time.

“Every person should be able to access live music and be able to participate in the way that they want to, so that they can feel welcome and comfortable and safe,” Barron said.

 Guests may play with toys inside the Inclusion Zone, but are asked to to do quietly to keep the space calm.  Photo | Megan Frank / WLVR

Ryan Hill, ArstQuest’s programming director, said the arts and cultural organization already offers sensory-friendly movie nights and wanted to expand the concept to Musikfest. 

“We had this open cinema that we could turn into an inclusion zone,” Hill said. “There are people who were not able to access Musikfest before, who are able to do so now. ArtsQuest’s mission will forever be improving access to the arts.”

Hill says it’s great to have a calming space for guests as well as for the volunteers who make Musikfest happen. He says it can be pretty stressful putting on a 10-day music festival, and everyone can appreciate a space to recharge.

The “Inclusion Zone” is located inside the ArtsQuest Center at the Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas

It’s open through Friday from 4 to 10 p.m., Saturday from noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.

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WLVR’s Megan Frank unplugged her microphone and took some time to recharge at Musikfest’s Inclusion Zone. It’s a quiet space aimed at helping guests take a break from festival noises and crowds. Photo | Megan Frank / WLVR


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