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Disability Arts Online

Question 4. Professionally, how do you feel about exhibiting under a ‘Disability’ banner?

Leni D. Anderson Columbus, Ohio, USA
I say “Whatever”…it doesn’t change what I do, and honestly, it has opened some doors that may had been closed to me otherwise.

It has offered opportunities ..for example; I have exhibited my artwork at one of the world’s premier museums and cultural institutions…THE SMITHSONIAN!!!

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Loretta Bebeau Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
I am willing to participate in a Disability Arts show, but am not pursuing that category.  I am pursuing the larger Communication issues of our world. Exploring communication, all facets.

The label of Disability Arts takes away credibility. …Healing institutions have art therapy sessions and that tone is carried with the Disability Arts title.  We all know that art therapy is good; I've taught and appreciated those developing artists… But artists with academic credentials should not be discredited. It took all of my efforts to earn the credentials. I think as an intellectual, talk with intellectuals.

Additional thoughts (via email conversation) My culture has had low expectations and associations about disability and art. I believe that is why VSA organized the exhibit at the Smithsonian (‘Revealing Culture’) … We had a window open to us for a brief moment. I do appreciate that experience.

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Allen Bryan  Brooklyn, New York USA
If it gets me into a venue like the Smithsonian, it’s OK-as long as “disability” is not in the show title.

Initially, my gradually narrowing eyesight opened new creative paths-to my surprise. Pragmatically, I’ve taken advantage of a couple of opportunities aimed at artists with disabilities. It’s more or less like being categorized as “an artist of color”; “a minority artist”; “a woman artist”;”[pick your ethnic group] artist”; etc. People who view my work, generally do not know about my disability. I might tell them while discussing the work with them if appropriate.

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Liz Crow Bristol, UK
I was working with a marketing person recently, who told a colleague at an exhibition opening that she was “working with this really interesting artist” (meaning me!). The other person looked curious and so she went on.. “yes, she’s a disabled artist,” at which point the colleague’s eyes glazed over and she couldn’t get away fast enough. It was bad enough that she apparently came back later to apologise for being rude… to a colleague rather than (for) her attitude.

That is the risk. …The thing is I AM a disabled artist, I DO experience discrimination ...and all of that has motivated and shaped my work - so I would be foolish to deny that.  I’m also an artist /film maker, and should be able to exist in the mainstream…with or without the additional label according to my choice.  But given the mainstream  doesn’t seem ready for that yet…I actually need to plug into both.

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Liz Doles Newburgh, New York US
I have no problem exhibiting under a Disability Arts banner. . . I’m happy to show in any worthy venue such as the Revealing Culture show and to show with artists of such accomplishment.

How others may receive the work is not my concern. I’m not proud or ashamed of having a disability but I do admire my fellow artists’ determination to pursue their dreams and activate their talents.

I do see the potential to be categorized as a “disabled artist” and the potential to be dismissed or marginalized as such, but that happens in every aspect of daily living it seems . . . there’s always that “it’s not that they do it so well, it’s that they do it all” kind of thing, like a singing dog or something . . . but the opportunity to show and to network with peers who are struggling with similar challenges is really great.  I show in non-“disabled” exhibits as well . . . but I do feel good about participating in these “disabled” events because I think that here art can do more than be a commodity, that art’s function as a vehicle of renewal and regeneration has more room to happen...

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Joan Fabian San Antonio, Texas, US
That is a tough question but I will try to answer it. I felt at first it was fine and if the quality of the exhibit is good then I have no problem with it. I realize now after ‘Revealing Culture’ that others still have a problem with this.   When I sent the news release to my local newspapers everyone ignored it. It made me realize that this was yet another "stigma".

Maybe they felt they couldn't comment on my disability in a newspaper? But they can talk about someone who is part of a group like ‘Latino, gay or black artist’ but shy away from an artist with a disability.  Other critics who had written about me in the past did not return my emails. It was heart breaking.

Has it offered opportunities, is it a potential ghetto?  Yes, it has offered me exposure in opportunities as an artist but I have been told that it can become a ghetto for me. Have I type-cast myself?  I worry about that. We are all facing financial difficulties so we have to use what we have to get by.

Does it offer the right context for your work? It is a tough question, but to be honest, I do feel comfortable meeting the artists that also have disabilities and feel "at home" in an exhibit with them. Having that feeling makes it worth while to me right now since my work is going through a big transition.

I cried a bit during my visit to Washington D.C. to see performances and the exhibit.  It was finally allowing that part of myself to be free and on display that I have a disability and am with many others who also have this challenge, and to arrive at such a place in spite of the pain along the way to success.

We were united in the fact that we all suffer because we are not like the "majority" and have had to take certain extra steps to get where some would easily fall. We had experienced self-doubt; many of us have been told we couldn't do something we really wanted to but did it anyway.

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Barbara Freeman Cincinnati, Ohio, US
I do not advertise myself as a disabled person. The Smithsonian show (Revealing Culture) was the only show I have ever been in that emphasized disabilities. I only submitted work to that venue because it was at the Smithsonian.

I work very hard at what I create, and I would hate to be identified as someone to be pitied. Calling me or anyone a disabled artist, adds that factor to the work. Therefore, that artist's work is suspect.

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David S. Forbes Queensland, Australia
It all comes down to getting the work out there: exposure… whatever gets the funding! It has offered opportunities.   A potential ghetto could be inappropriate, does it offer the right context for work?  maybe; it depends.

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Ju Gosling  aka ju90 London, UK
Absolutely fine. Any artist who cringes before critical and commercial considerations is certainly not going to go down in the art history books!  Meanwhile we are an international art movement in our own right, and like any other such movement wish to mainstream in our own right.
Opportunities, a potential ghetto, or the right context  for your work?  All three, but see above.

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Busser Howell Troy, Ohio, US
I only use it because it is available.  If I could find adequate representation in the mainstream, I would not use the disabled venue.  I guess it is my negative perception that makes me feel this way - it is what it is.

Opportunities, a potential ghetto, or the right context for your work?   If (it’s) getting the work in front of the public, then it fulfils a purpose.  As I said, I paint for the sighted community and will take advantage of every opportunity.  However, I would prefer that people look at my work without being focused on me, how I see, or how I paint.

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Simon Mckeown North Yorkshire, UK
(I feel) Good – I am very proud of this unique area. It needs more support, at a gallery level, more promotion …. It produces some of the most interesting detailed work in the art world.  I want to exhibit in this area, and help bring it to public recognition, along with exhibiting under just a general banner.

It offers opportunities. It is not a ghetto – it just needs to be fully recognised and supported and for more opportunities to develop from it. Some of the best art and artists can/will emerge from this area, if the art industry looks in detail …. It takes political and cultural will, and to some extent we have seen this in the USA, with the Kennedy family connected to VSA and in the UK with ACE and other bodies supporting the area.

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US artist (quoted anonymously)
‘Disability Banner’? Not my first choice. No sympathy sales! ..opportunities.. the right context for your work?  Not at all.

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Amy Miller Florida USA
I have no problem with that.   It took a long time to get diagnosed and now that I know what it is, it would be wrong not to share my experiences with others.   There should be no shame.   I would be proud to be under the Disability Banner!

Opportunities? It is very helpful. I was very proud to be chosen to be bannered under the VSA at The Smithsonian in Washington, DC.   It let people of all ages especially children see it’s okay even with a disability and (to) expose your disability through your art.   Everyone can see that I have Tourette’s and a sense of humour.

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Janet Morrow Bedford, Texas, US 
There is no doubt it has afforded me opportunities to which I would not otherwise have been exposed. Occasionally, people caution me about being stereotyped. I do see that this can be a concern, but frankly, as an emerging artist – one of thousands – having something that differentiates me seems to be a desirable thing. Working in complete obscurity or making only very impersonal art in order to avoid any risk of being pigeon-holed is not an appealing alternative.  It does reassure me that my work is frequently accepted for exhibitions where the juror knows nothing of my disability background.  My hope is that if the work is broad enough, even non-disabled people will find applicability.

I would just like to add what a pleasure it has been to discover there is a community of artists with disabilities – something of which I was not aware until a couple of years ago. Although I do wish to continue to participate in non-disability oriented venues, I find there is a relaxation and freedom from pretense in working with other artists who deal with some of the same kinds of challenges.

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Isaac Powell  Richmond, Kentucky, US
Disability banner? I feel the same as if I was exhibiting under an “acrylic painter” banner.  The opportunities have been wonderful. The context is not a hindrance.

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Janet Yagoda Shagam Albuquerque, New Mexico, US
Not sure. While it’s good to show the public that people who have
disabilities are not so different from themselves, there is also a part of me that would prefer that my art stand on its own merit. Also medication keeps me nearly free of seizures – so am I even worthy of any benefits associated with the disability moniker?

Potential ghetto, opportunities, the right context? Neutral. I did get to show my work at the Smithsonian – an incredible opportunity. But exhibiting under the disabled banner certainly could be a potential ghetto. (good word!)

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Bill Shannon Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
The right context?  Whatever the context, the art is the art. Each event is independent and has its own merits and drawbacks.

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Katherine Sherwood  Rodeo, California, US 
Disability banner?  No problem.  It has offered opportunities though I worry about the ghettoization factor.