A Pioneering and Transformative Program

Founded by the University of Saint Francis in 1978, the Jesters is an intergenerational, multi-disciplinary performing arts program for people with mild to severe intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD). The purpose of the Jesters is to enhance the quality of life for people with I/DD by engaging them in the creative arts.

The vision is to help them develop self-expression, self-esteem, socialization, and other life skills while providing learning opportunities to the Saint Francis community and the community at large.

This one-of-a-kind program runs from September to March, providing over 20 weeks of customized arts education activities, including Movement/Dance, Music (instrumental and voice), Theatre, Animation, Storytelling, Visual Arts, and Improvisation.

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  • Jesters

Program Details

The Jester program works with participants to create original, multi-disciplinary work that is relevant to participants’ lives and highlights performers’ strengths. Each year, artists and participants work together to co-create an original, culminating, multi-disciplinary performance presented each March before a combined audience of 850 people (over two showings). The Jester program year also includes a 6-week summer program, training for other organizations and guest artist residencies, as well as workshops and lectures with demonstrations at conferences, schools, and community events.

The Jesters program is funded in part by AWS Foundation and the Indiana Arts Commission.

Participant Outcomes

The Jesters Program is designed to provide participants with new and engaging experiences while building social, emotional, and intellectual skills. Each year, we see Jesters:

  • Develop artistic skills in specific disciplines
  • Increase in their cultural literacy
  • Build their self-esteem and sense of belonging
  • Experience healthy relationships with peers and artists
  • Create new community connections
  • Enjoy new relationships in a leisure-time setting
  • Improve their soft skills, life skills, and social skills
  • Cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning
  • Increase their independence, employability, and self-efficacy

Community and Training Opportunities

The Jesters Program also provides training opportunities for organizations, showing them the positive impact the arts can have on individuals with developmental disabilities. If you’re a caregiver, volunteer, or student, or part of a family, service staff, or an arts organization, our program offers you:

  • Meaningful volunteer opportunities for enhanced community engagement
  • Improved skills in working effectively with individuals with I/DD
  • Better, more positive interactions and healthier relationships with individuals with I/DD
  • Increased access to informal support networks

Volunteer Opportunities

Saint Francis students, faculty, and community members are invited to participate as:

  • Performers and Accompanists
  • Backstage crew
  • Direct service or observation support

We’d love to hear from you!

For more information or to join our mailing list, contact Molly McGowan.

Phone: 260-339-8064