The Walt Disney Company’s continued dedication to furthering inclusion and diversity in the entertainment industry was demonstrated with a $1 million multi-year grant made to Exceptional Minds, a nonprofit creative arts academy for young adults on the autism spectrum.
The commitment was announced at the “Decade of Impact” event celebrating Exceptional Minds’ 10th anniversary, which took place on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California, on October 22. Disney was the host sponsor of the event.
The grant is part of the Disney Future Storytellers initiative, which aims to increase access to careers in storytelling and innovation for those who have been historically underrepresented, through social investments and collaborations with nonprofit organizations.
“At Disney we recognize the importance of investing in skill-building opportunities when it comes to preparing youth for careers in storytelling,” said Jennifer Cohen, executive vice president, Corporate Social Responsibility, The Walt Disney Company. “As part of our Disney Future Storytellers initiative, we’re honored to be able to work with Exceptional Minds to help neurodivergent talent build their technical and artistic abilities through their renowned academy and training studios.”
The funding will enable Exceptional Minds to continue to build an innovative curriculum that teaches young, neurodivergent adults the technical and professional skills needed for post-production careers in animation, visual effects, 3D gaming, and related fields.
“It’s definitely a transformative investment in our infrastructure—there is no question this will allow for us to continue to develop the pipeline of work-ready talent into The Walt Disney Company and prepare our artists in really meaningful, profound ways,” David Siegel, executive director and CEO of Exceptional Minds, told Variety, media sponsor of the event.
During the event, Marvel Studios was also honored with the inaugural “Exceptional Impact” award in recognition of the studios’ work with the nonprofit and inclusive hiring practices. Victoria Alonso, President of Physical, Post Production, Visual Effects, and Animation at Marvel Studios, accepted the award on behalf of the studios.
Speaking emotionally via video message to the audience in attendance, Alonso said, “We love working with Exceptional Minds and are lucky to have had a relationship for many, many years. You are incredibly special and talented artists we count on every single time.”
Disney and Exceptional Minds have a long and transformative history of collaboration, beginning with Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015. As vendors for Disney, Exceptional Minds’ students gain practical skills working with Disney content, while graduates and supervisors continue to be placed in full-time roles, several who are now working at Marvel Studios. The academy’s studio works on the end credits for Marvel Studios’ films and series, and consistently does visual effects work. Past projects include Star Wars: The Last Jedi as well as Marvel Studios’ Black Panther and WandaVision. The academy’s graduates have worked on nearly 30 Marvel titles over the past seven years.