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Aquarium of the Pacific’s Festival of Human Abilities celebrates 20 years

The Aquarium of the Pacific will once again celebrate the creative talents of people with disabilities this weekend – and mark the 20th anniversary of the Festival of Human Abilities.

The Long Beach attraction will do so, as usual, with live performances, music, art demonstrations, tours and more.

And for the first time since the pandemic, the festival will feature workshops, during which attendees can learn adaptive skills taught by artists and other experts with disabilities, according to an Aquarium of the Pacific press release.

The two-day festival, which is free with general admission to the aquarium, will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 28-29.

“Celebrating people with different abilities is always important,” said Dani Bowman, an award-winning animation producer who has participated in each festival since 2011, “because it helps promote awareness, acceptance, and representation of the differently abled community by breaking the stereotypes.

“Just because we are different does not mean we are less,” Bowman, who is an advocate for the autism community, added. “A lot of us are capable just like everyone else, and this festival gives us the opportunity to show the world how we can shine.”



Besides having a booth this year, Bowman will also give a presentation about how the company she founded at 14 – DaniMation Entertainment – helps the special needs community learn to turn their passion into a career. She’ll also showcase some of the animated films her students with autism, and herself, have worked on.

“I share my passion (for) animation with other people like myself with different abilities because I have learned throughout my career how difficult it can be to be taken seriously as a neurodivergent person,” Bowman said. “So I guess you can say part of my passion is to show others like me how they could do it, because if I could do it, they could do it too.”

The aquarium launched the Festival of Human Abilities to ensure everyone in Long Beach, and in the surrounding areas, feels welcome and seen, said Chelsey Coleman, community relations and event manager at the attraction.

One of the reasons the festival has carried on, Coleman said, is because of the community it has built with those who attend and participate annually.

“We want to keep maintaining that tie not only with the community but with the folks who participate,” she said, “and to make sure all the guests who attend really see and appreciate the talent and incredible people that will be there.”

Dancers, musicians and artists who have participated for years will do so again this weekend. But there will also be a couple of new participants, such as Black Sheep Salon – an accessible hair salon in Long Beach.

During the festival, the aquarium will also present its Glenn McIntyre Heritage Award, which recognizes someone in the community who has supported their friends, family and community, or who does volunteer work and community service.

This year. the honoree is Michael Seale Jr., a painter, businessman and advocate for those living with cerebral palsy. Seale has created more than 350 abstract art expressions since he was 13.

“He’s been an inspiration for a very long time; he has his own painting business,” Coleman said. “He is an incredible artist and we’re able to honor him this year for all of the amazing work that he’s done.”

Seale has attended the festival for many years, he said. But this year, Seale said, he is especially excited to not only receive the award, but also inspire people and show them that it is possible to run a business and be successful in life.

“I’m really big on prosperity, power and family,” Seale said.

He’s spent “25 years of building an empire, in a sense,,” Seale added, “so for me to be honored, I think I must be doing something right.”

Attendees will get to meet Seale at his booth and will be able to buy his paintings and other products.

The festical will also feature the soft launch of a new audio description tour in the aquarium’s Northern Pacific gallery, which features sea otters, diving birds and tidepool animals, according to the press release.

There will be sign language interpreters at all major shows, audio tours and visitor guides in braille for those who are visually impaired, and many other accessibility tools for guests, according to the aquarium’s website.

The Aquarium of the Pacific has been certified as being sensory inclusive, Coleman said, meaning it features quiet zones and sensory bags for guests with special needs.

“It’s incredible to be able to show people the diversity of the human spirit and how we truly can overcome anything,” Coleman said. “We just hope that everybody who is able to come to the festival has a wonderful time and that everyone who wants to come can.”

Tickets for general admission are $36.95 for adults, $26.95 for children and $33.95 for seniors. Aquarium members and children under 3 are free. Advanced online reservations are required.

For more information, call 562-590-3100 or visit

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Source: Orange County Register

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