Jeannine Chartier Fund

The late Jeannine Chartier was a lifelong advocate for the visibility, rights, and inclusion of people with disabilities. For more than three decades, she worked tirelessly to ensure a voice for people with disabilities in the Rhode Island arts and culture community.

Jeannine’s work in the arts stemmed from her personal story. She was born in Pawtucket to third generation working-class French-Canadian immigrants. In 1953, at three months old, she got polio. Along with hundreds of thousands across the country, she faced a childhood of medical interventions to ‘cure her’ and make her ‘normal.’ After several years, her parents put their faith in Jeannine’s dauntless spirit and let her find her own way on her own terms.

Her own way and terms were through the visual and performing arts. The spark that started in all those hospital beds and clinics was ignited by Trinity Repertory, RI Philharmonic, and RISD Museum’s children’s programs and youth theater classes. Her close friend of 30 years, Rosemary Burns, relates that “Jeannine found out how to navigate, how to learn, how to communicate.”

She surmised that others with disabilities would be just as impacted by the arts. Gloria-Jean Masciarotte, another close friend and colleague—a professor and lecturer at both Providence College and RISD—says that Jeannine resolved "to grease the hinges, provide the keys, and jiggle the doorknobs open for others.”

Jeannine became a costume designer for Trinity and alternative theater, a breaking-the-barriers disabled catalogue model, a regular participant in alternative dance and performance and, over the years, an ADA compliance consultant.

In 1986, Jeannine became the executive director of the Rhode Island branch of the federal Very Special Arts (VSA) program out of the Kennedy Center. She worked tirelessly to create participatory arts programs for the disabled. When that federal program was defunded by Congress, undaunted, Jeannine started her own renamed and refocused state program, Arts Equity.

The Jeannine Chartier Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation has been launched to continue her work at opening doors, creating spaces, and inviting everyone into art expression. The fund will support organizations that demonstrate clear commitment to artists with disabilities.

Jeannine knew that access to the arts has the potential to expand one’s world—that those with disabilities can feel a spark when presented with a pathway to create art.

“They love, they get hungry, they want connection,” continues Rosemary. "Singing, drawing, performing are natural acts of humanity and, for many, doing it is necessary to finding their own place in the world.

“She has touched thousands of lives, ensuring that they were seen, that they belong. It is through Jeannine’s spirit—and through this Fund—that this work must and will continue."

Contributions to the Jeannine Chartier Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation can be made here.