Wednesday, 01 April 2015 15:00

Changing disability perceptions through art: DisArt Festival debuts in Grand Rapids

Written by  Kerri VanderHoff
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 Artists have a way of presenting a physical form from concepts that are abstract and theoretical.

Paint, pencil, clay and other materials take on new meaning when guided by a creative mind. It provides a bridge for us all to use a tangible object to help connect and share deeper ideas about a subject.

Now add a layer to that and consider the conversation around art that involves disability.

The first annual DisArt Festival aims to change perceptions about disability, one work of art at a time. It debuts in Grand Rapids this month.

DisArt Festival
April 10–25, 2015

(Art of the Lived Experiment runs through July 31, 2015

Multiple venues including Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts,
Kendall College of Art & Design,
Grand Rapids Art Museum

“Too often, the non-disabled community is uncomfortable interacting with people who have disabilities,” said DisArt Director Chris Smit, a professor at Calvin College. Smit was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and has been in a wheelchair since he was a child. “The only way to make community happen is to push past feelings of discomfort and instead aim our energies directly at finding similarities with one another. DisArt Festival provides many opportunities to do that.”

The festival presents a variety of art forms including film, fashion and performance, as well as the centerpiece exhibition “Art of the Lived Experiment (ALE).” This is the U.S. premiere for the exhibition, originally curated for the Liverpool, England-based disability arts organization DaDa Fest. The DisArt festival also presents a series of talks and other activities that aim to inform the public and inspire conversations about the human experience of disability and the production of art.

“Art of the Lived Experiment” features the work of more than 35 internationally renowned artists and will span several venues in Grand Rapids. In addition, seven new works by North American artists have been commissioned to be included in the show. ALE is co-curated by Amanda Cachia and Aaron Williamson, and organized by the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (UICA). It will be displayed at UICA, Kendall College of Art & Design (KCAD), and the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM).

The contemporary works featured in ALE address change, adjustment and social perceptions regarding disability. The exhibition explores technological advancements, social stigmatization and the day-to-day experience of people living with disabilities.

An introductory area, dubbed the “Ignition Room,” at the UICA features an eclectic range of historical artifacts presenting early themes on the subject of disability. Items include an acoustic chair from the 19th century, which amplified sounds to aid in hearing, alchemical diagrams by Isaac Newton and more.

Other organizations involved in the DisArt festival, a collaborative effort over two years in the making, include Disability Advocates of Kent County, ArtPrize, Arts in Motion and Fashion Has Heart.

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