Investing in Access

Groundbreaking autism programs receive statewide recognition. 

May 5, 2015

Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s commitment to enriching communities through the transformative power of the performing arts has been at the core of its identity since its founding in 1867. To recognize the school’s impact on the community, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) designated the Boston Conservatory an “UP” organization and honored the school with a Commonwealth Award for Access. Concurrently, the Conservatory also received generous grants to help grow its popular music and autism programming. The hard-earned recognition celebrates years of meticulous program building by visionaries Rhoda Bernard, Ed.D., director of professional education and enrichment, and Kim Haack, director of external relations.


For more than 15 years, the Conservatory Connections outreach program has embodied the school’s philosophy of sharing the arts with everyone. Under Haack’s leadership, the program has engaged roughly 40% of the student population through performances at senior centers, hospitals, shelters and community centers in Boston and beyond.

To add to its dynamic programming, Haack recently introduced an Autism-Friendly Performance (AFP) initiative, which presents an annual AFP on the mainstage to individuals on the autism spectrum. The Boston Conservatory at Berklee is the first college ever to offer this type of programming.


On the academic side, Bernard has built first-of-their-kind degree programs in music education and autism as a way to provide advanced, hands-on training for future teachers.

In addition to their required coursework, music education students have the unique opportunity to give individualized music lessons to high-proficiency students on the autism spectrum participating in the popular Boston Conservatory Music Program for Students on the Autism Spectrum. This specialized program prepares individuals on the spectrum (ages nine and up) to pursue music in higher education and beyond.

The Boston Globe recently praised the school’s work in this area, highlighting program alumna Gianna Histos, who went on to study music performance at Gordon College. “This population has always heard about their deficits. We want to show them what they can do,” said Bernard.

The school is also introducing a sister program designed for children on the spectrum between the ages of three and eight. A fun and engaging introduction to music, these mommy-and-me style group lessons kick off in fall 2015.  


The Boston Conservatory’s UP designation, which stands for “universal programming,” gives the school accreditation for these inclusive and accessible programming initiatives. The Conservatory was one of only 11 organizations to receive this new MCC status for “creating transformational experiences for the public.”

In February 2015, the MCC honored Boston Conservatory at the state capital with a Commonwealth Award for Access, which “recognizes exceptional initiatives or programs that make arts and culture accessible and inclusive for older adults, persons with disabilities and other underserved populations.” At the ceremony, the Conservatory was cited for “helping students on the autism spectrum develop their creativity and fulfill their potential as artists and learners.”

In addition, the MCC’s SerHacer initiative awarded the Conservatory a $3,000 planning grant to explore the feasibility of establishing an ensemble-based music program—an integrated chorus—for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. A six-month planning and research process will determine whether the Conservatory will add the chorus to its autism program offerings in 2016.

As Boston Conservatory prepares to celebrate 150 years of excellence in 2017, these awards exemplify how the school continues to be a performing arts leader and front-runner in accessible arts education.

Learn more about Conservatory Connections and how to get involved.

Learn more about Boston Conservatory’s community autism programs and music education degree offerings.