Disney Announces Million-Dollar Grant to Exceptional Minds

This past weekend, Exceptional Minds (exceptional-minds.org), a nonprofit academy and working studio training young adults on the autism spectrum for careers in the creative arts, celebrated their 10-year anniversary on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California.

During this event, Disney announced that they would make a $1 million multi-year commitment to Exceptional Minds to support the work that the nonprofit does with neurodivergent individuals to prepare them for careers in entertainment.

[ph: © Rob Latour 2022]
Exceptional Minds 10 Anniversary Party [ph: © Rob Latour 2022]
The grant will help Exceptional Minds continue to build an innovative curriculum that teaches young neurodivergent adults the technical and professional skills needed for post-production jobs in the entertainment business. The academy’s areas of focus include animation, CGI gaming and visual effects.

“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, EVP 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.”

Exceptional Minds 10th Anniversary Party [ph: © Rob Latour 2022]
Exceptional Minds 10th Anniversary Party [ph: © Rob Latour 2022]
The anniversary event celebrated the students, alumni, teachers and collaborators of Exceptional Minds. Experiential and interactive exhibits on the Walt Disney Studios lot spotlighted the incredible work of the talented academy graduates and showcased the history of the organization and its renewed goals for the future.

“Disney’s unprecedented investment in our growth will give more artists on the autism spectrum an opportunity to contribute their creativity to this industry and beyond,” said David Siegel, Executive Director & CEO of Exceptional Minds. “Disney is helping us develop the next generation of storytellers. We can’t imagine a more magical company with whom to share in that endeavor.”

Marvel award
Marvel Studios received the inaugural Exceptional Impact Award.

Marvel Studios was honored at the event with the inaugural “Exceptional Impact” award for their work with Exceptional Minds and inclusive hiring practices. Victoria Alonso, President of Physical, Post Production, Visual Effects & Animation at Marvel Studios, accepted the award.

Speaking 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.”

Exceptional Minds anniversary
Young guests share their drawing skills during the Exceptional Minds anniversary party.

Disney and Exceptional Minds has a long and transformative history of collaboration, beginning with Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015. As vendors for Disney, Exceptional Mind 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.

Disney’s investment in Exceptional Minds is part of Disney Future Storytellers, an initiative that empowers the next generation of storytellers and innovators to dream about their future, build their talents and skills, and become who they imagine they can be.

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