Two projects focused on collaboration within diverse communities have been named winners of the 2023 Pabst Steinmetz Foundation Arts and Wellness Innovation Awards. The project teams comprising UCF researchers and community partners were granted $25,000 each to help fund their respective initiatives.

This year’s winning projects were centered on a theme of unleashing potential, focusing on amplifying the power of knowledge and discovery through the intersection of arts and wellness. These project teams join ten other Pabst Steinmetz Foundation Arts and Wellness Innovation award recipients since its inception in 2018.

The awards were founded by Central Florida’s Pabst Steinmetz Foundation to recognize teams building sustainable models for arts and wellness innovation. The teams, composed of UCF personnel and community organizations, involve collaboration with the College of Arts and Humanities, at least one partner from the university, and a community organization, to promote cross-disciplinary collaboration and research.

“This year we were seeking initiatives that are closely aligned with UCF’s ‘unleashing potential’ strategic plan,” says Margery Pabst Steinmetz, who, along with her husband Chuck Steinmetz, co-founded the foundation and initiated these annual awards at UCF. “The selected projects not only met the criteria, but also reflected exciting, sustainable models. In addition to strengthening UCF’s research and creative activity, they will bring more access to some community groups that have great potential to shine.”

In Fall 2023, teams from across the university submitted proposals for the two awards. Winners were chosen for being interdisciplinary, sustainable, community focused and demonstrating innovative development in their research.

Pegasus PlayLab: Daring to Dream

UCF’s Pegasus PlayLab is an annual festival dedicated to developing plays by emerging playwrights for performance at Theatre UCF. Responding to the theme unleashing potential, UCF’s School of Performing Arts and Student Accessibility Services will partner with Central Florida Community Arts (CFCArts) to make the Pegasus PlayLab process accessible to young adults with and without disabilities.

This collaboration will build on the 2022-23 Pabst-Steinmetz Building a Shared Home project, where students were brought together with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities in partnership with Best Buddies and devised a new play around experiences of home and community in June 2023.

Adapting the model of UCF’s Pegasus PlayLab, theater artists with and without disabilities will have the opportunity to submit works in progress with the theme of unleashing potential to be developed during a weeklong series of workshops and performed at UCF in early Summer 2024 as part of Pegasus PlayLab. Participants will explore theatre, music, writing, visual art and other forms of storytelling to weave their personal experiences into a new play that engages with themes of personal growth, overcoming adversity, forging new paths and embracing change.

The project’s second phase will connect to inclusive artists on a national scale by partnering with UCF’s Office of Student Accessibility Services and CFCArts. Project facilitators will bring the previous processes and discoveries to the New London Barn Playhouse in New Hampshire. The Barn Playhouse has partnered with their local school district’s student support services to create theatrical experiences for students with disabilities in their community.

“By partnering with Student Accessibility Services and CFCArts, and engaging diverse communities in Central Florida and New Hampshire, our initiative will further raise national awareness about disabilities, empower participants to build self-esteem and confidence, and offer a model for inclusive creative practices at UCF and beyond,” says Pegasus Professor Julia Listengarten.

Researchers from the College of Arts and Humanities, Student Accessibility Services, and CFCArts include:

  • Listengarten, artistic director and graduate program director in the School of Performing Arts.
  • Vandy Wood, associate professor in the School of Performing Arts
  • Sage Tokach ’22MF, guest artist, director of education at New London Barn Playhouse in New Hampshire
  • Terrance Hunter, chief executive officer with CFCArts
  • Adam Meyer, director of Student Accessibility Services
  • Keri Watson, associate professor in the School of Visual Arts and Design

Limbitless Journey: ALS Games for Health Creative Jam

Limbitless Solutions, a UCF-based nonprofit, is dedicated to increasing accessibility through creating accessibility devices with training games to empower children and adults in the disability community while also enhancing the workforce through its student scholar internship and research experience program.

Building on the work of the initial phase, the Limbitless Journey: ALS Games for Health Creative Jam initiative aims to harness the power of a custom-designed video game and game controller, which utilizes muscle flex in the temporalis muscles to enhance the lives of individuals living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The second phase focuses on generalizable functionality and expanding the reach of the original project to improve quality of life outcomes for ALS patients.

In partnership with healthcare professionals from the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, the overarching goal of the project is to refine the hands-free wheelchair control system for electric wheelchairs and improve the gamified training that is critical to learning to drive/navigate using the custom EMG-powered hands-free interface in a low-stress, safe environment.

The project will also incorporate a game jam event hosted at Limbitless Solutions. Participants in the game jam will be invited to design levels or mini games that align with the training objectives guided by the medical staff. A panel of judges consisting of potential users and Mayo Clinic medical staff will evaluate the creations. The game jam will promote awareness and understanding of an individual’s challenges with ALS, helping to bridge the gap between accessibility, gaming technology developers and end-users.

Researchers from the College of Arts and Humanities, College of Sciences, Nicholson School of Communication and Media, Mayo Clinic Jacksonville and Limbitless Solutions include:

  • Matt Dombrowski ’05 ’08MFA, associate professor of emerging media
  • Peter Smith ’05MS ’12PhD, associate professor of game and interactive media
  • Björn Oskarsson, associate professor of neurology, Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, Jacksonville director of the ALS Center of Excellence
  • Albert Manero ’12 ’14MS ’16PhD, executive director of Limbitless Solutions
  • John Sparkman ’13 ’15MS, associate director of Limbitless Solutions