Making accessible what has always been inaccessible. That’s what the Arts & Disability Network of Manitoba (ADNM) is doing.
Through its Soapbox Series, Human Rights presentations, mentorships and partnerships, ADNM is making accessible those inaccessible realities experienced by people with disabilities.
One such partnership is with Martha Street Studio (MSS), where a “Making Our Mark” show features six artists presenting their work. The show started Oct. 24 and will run until Nov. 28 at the Martha Street Studio, 11 Martha Street.
Yvette Cenerini is one of these artists. For Cenerini, access to the arts has come a long way; from her missing out on class trips, to not being able to enter buildings, to scrambling for help assembling her works.
Now, she’s a participant in the mentorship program through ADNM, Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA), and through Martha Street Studio. It’s allowed her to access art and have her own show.
Technician Andrew Lodwick helped Cenerini with printing and screening the multilayered pieces. She also had a show at the Maison des Artistes Visuels, an artist-run centre in St. Boniface.
Yvette Cenerini’s works can be seen at www.yvettecenerini.com. Her success is just one example of what is possible when the ADNM engages with community.
Breaking down barriers is also evident in events such as a panel discussion held last month, where Nigel Bart presented. Bart is Founder and Studio Facilitator of Artbeat, an organization mentoring artists with mental health disabilities.
At age 19, when Bart acquired his disability, his life took a new direction. He practiced with a range of different mediums including painting, sculpture, soap stone carving, video, performance art and musical art.
Currently, he mentors other artists with mental health disabilities at Artbeat Studio. After being mentored for a six month period, the artists present their work at a show, which is often a highly successful event.
Artbeat has even created an alumni gallery, Studio Central at 444 Kennedy St., as well as Upbeat, a place artists can sell their work on the 2nd floor of Portage Place Mall.
“Art has the capability of communicating a lot of different things,” said Bart. “With my disability, I was unable to communicate through words at times and the art helped me communicate visually or through music.”
Bart has learned of many arts organizations and encourages artists and audiences to get involved in the arts. For more information on Artbeat Studio, visit http://artbeatstudio.ca/
The discussion on breaking down barriers continued at World Café workshops on Oct. 7 and 15 at 611 Main Street, where at one session, Dr. Diane Driedger, a professor at the University of Manitoba Disability Studies Program, was the keynote speaker.
Driedger is a visual artist, a writer and a member of the ADNM. She has invisible disabilities which contributed to her experiencing barriers to accessibility in the arts field.
Eight years ago, Driedger applied for an Access Grant with the Manitoba Arts Council. The grant was aimed to ensure the participation of marginalized groups of artists, such as those with disabilities. She stated in her application that due to fatigue issues with her disability, she needed a grant to buy time to write, as all of her energy was going into working for a living.
She did not receive the grant, being told she was better off competing with artists without disabilities, as she was talented enough to do so. Art by people with disabilities is often categorized as “not as good”.
Applying for a grant presented barriers for Driedger. The application asked for 15 pages of poetry as a sample for the juries to consider. However, due to pain and fatigue issues with her disability, Driedger could only create five pages of poetry, which did not match the 15-page works of the other competing artists without disabilities. This would put her at a disadvantage in the competition. For Driedger, to create 15 pages required a lot of time and energy that she did not have, due to making a living.
“It was taking me a very long time to complete anything as I wasn’t in a financial place with the time and energy to spend on writing to get more funding so I would have time,” said Driedger. “It is a catch 22.”
Driedger said another example of a barrier is sometimes editors do not see the importance of identifying with disability in a work. She cited one editor stroking out the words, “women with disabilities”, in a poem that Driedger had submitted to a publisher considering her manuscript. This poem was about a friend, another woman with a disability involved in the Disability Rights Movement, and Driedger felt the words were crucial to the poem. Her friend had passed away and this poem was a way to reflect on their relationship, work, and time together.
Driedger’s book of poetry is still in progress. For Dr. Diane Driedger’s work, visit: http://www.inanna.ca/catalog/living-edges-disabled-womans-reader/
The final discussion of the Soapbox Series took place on Oct. 30 at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. There was a performance/artist talk by Pittsburgh-based interdisciplinary performance artist, Bill Shannon, who does freestyle skating on crutches. Following that was a thought-provoking strategic planning session.
For more information on Bill Shannon, check out his website at http://www.whatiswhat.com/
Susan Lamberd, Chairperson of the ADNM, is encouraged by this growing movement.
“I think the Disability Art Culture will prove to be a major shaping force of the 21st century in the art world,” Lamberd said. “In Britain, Ireland, Australia, and especially in the U.S.A., Disability Art is huge. There are many groups and international organizations, government funding in these countries and people are seeing Disability Art. But, in Canada, there are only a few groups scattered among the provinces.
“An artist with a disability is a professional artist [with different mediums and pieces],” continued Lamberd. “They may also be called a ‘mainstream artist’. A Disability Artist will use their art to portray a political or cultural message they want to express, [such as discrimination or acceptance of their disability].”
For Susan Lamberd’s works visit http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/susan-lamberd.html
“We humans are creative beings and remarkable problem-solvers,” explained artist Cenerini. “This is indeed the case for individuals who are unable to do things the conventional way, because of a disability. We all know that there is ALWAYS more than one way to complete a task.”
If the ADNM has proven anything, it’s that artists, audiences, organizations and the community can benefit from accessibility in the arts.
o For more info on the ADNM, check out previous works by Harry Paine who describes the ADNM in detail on the organization’s general website, in an article on CNC, and in another CNC article about artist Nobuyuki Tsujii.