Have you ever wondered why you don't see many disabled artists exhibiting their work publicly, and teaching art classes?
As an Artist with a disability I can say from personal and professional experience that art needs to become more accessible. Although there are several people and organizations who are hosting exhibits for those with disabilities, and providing some training programs for artists, they do not cover all artistic disciplines.
First we must ask ourselves the following two questions:
1. WHAT qualifies as a disability?
2. WHY does what type of disability matter?
3. WHO is affected by accessibility issues for disabled artists?
To answer the first question I will simply provide the dictionary definition of WHAT a disability is:
condition, disorder, affliction
"my disability makes getting into bed a slow process"
When people think of disability the first thoughts that often come to mind are:
A person who is either blind, deaf, in a wheelchair, or missing limbs, not necessarily other health conditions or invisible disabilities. Another spectrum of disabilities are intellectual ones, which may or may not be visible at all.
Why does what type of disability you have matter?
How it matters to the person with it differs, but it SHOULDN'T matter to exhibitions which one you have. Most exhibitions for artists with disabilities have very specific criteria of what type of disability you must have in order to participate, unintentionally creating a 'non-inclusive' environment.
It may not be appropriate to have all disabilities at EVERY exhibition, but I have found that most are targeted towards blind, deaf, and those with visible physical handicaps. All Artists should have EQUAL opportunities to showcase their work, and receive artistic training throughout the year.The Artist thinks to themselves "Well perhaps if I had that disability my artwork would count." The truth is all art in all forms counts, and should be seen and experienced by exhibitors, and judged the same way art produced by an artists without a disability is.
Exhibiting your art as an artist with a disability has several unseen barriers that may affect non-disabled artists as well, but are particular more challenging if your disability is physical and/ or intellectual.
For an Artist or Entrepreneur with a disability these barriers although only exist on paper, can be a significant setback.
WHY it exhibitions are still non-inclusive:
1. The exhibitions only allow submissions from artists with specific disabilities, leaving several artists out of the picture.
2. The exhibits do not provide transportation or shipping of the artworks to and from the exhibiting location.
3. The exhibits if held at all are only once a year or more in a specific city/ province that may be to costly to travel to for n emerging artist with a disability.
4. There are only a couple online art contests created for artists with disabilities every year across canada.
5. Art stores do not all sell online, and may not have the products an Artist may need so he/ or she will have to travel to a store that may not be wheelchair accessible
6. Disabled Artists are more likely to live in poverty, so taking a high commission off of their paintings, and requiring them to frame it in order to apply to an exhibit may automatically disclude their practice no matter how talented they are.
7. There are not many exhibiting travel grants for artists with disabilities who would like to expand their practice nationally or internationally.
8. Art gallery/ studio may or may not be wheelchair accessible, and may not have an accessible washroom. If the studio is smaller in size it may not be wheelchair friendly at all. This is especially true for art galleries located in older buildings.
9. There are not many mentor ship training programs for artists with disabilities that cover all artistic disciplines.
This is why I always encourage Artists to build their brand online as much as possible, and to be very strategic about where they exhibit their work. Most importantly to showcase their work in an art studio or gallery that is wheelchair accessible. The more barriers you place in front of an already 'starving artist' with a disability, the less motivated they will be to pursue their artistic practice
Tips To Help Artists Showcase Their Work And Make Money
1. Don't always be so specific about the type of disability. Make your exhibit(s) open to all physical disabilities, or all intellectual disabilities and cover multiple artistic disciplines.
2. Teach disabled Artists entrepreneurial skills such as online marketing, sales, customer service, and administration skills
3. Provide transportation or transportation grants and/ or funding to Artists who need assistance when exhibiting or training
4. Make your building more accessible by purchasing ramps/ and keeping studio furniture to a minimum to allow for wheelchairs to move throughout the building without needing staff assistance. Small things like the weight of a door, and how difficult it is to open can be the one thing that keeps people with disabilities out of your building.
5. Have your gallery staff trained to assist those with intellectual or physical disabilities to make the exhibit more welcoming and interactive.
6. For individuals with sensory challenges who are either the artists exhibiting or a guest at an exhibit, try to learn how to incorporate sensory objects, lighting, and sound into production elements of the show. For exhibits that are simply a walk by and take a look feel, that may or may not be an environment that a person with an intellectual disability could enjoy.
I want my art to be as inclusive as possible to guests, including those with an intellectual or physical disability. I have found it challenging to find traditional galleries accommodating, so most of the time I rent a theatre or an empty room that I can adapt to make more accessible for my audience. Typically when I call to book a venue I have found alot of galleries have not put much thought into the above, so I am not always able to hold my own exhibits as much as I would like too.
I purposefully make my paintings with gel mediums, and elements of scuplture in acrylic so that guests who are blind or who learn from touch can touch my art. I KNOW! OH MY GOSH! THATS THE ULTIMATE NO, NO!!!! If you think about it......how else would they get to experience my work? I have several layers of varnish on my pieces, and they do not get touched every day so to me, it is worth it.
I am not asking you to let anyone touch any artists work. All I am saying is that it is not just disabled artists that we need to accommodate, but disabled guests. Lets work together to make this happen shall we?
Here are some awesome links and resources to help you make art more accessible:
If you are looking for a paint night, workshop or art class to be instructed to artists with disabilities, and/ or art mentors contact ArtWithSas directly: 204.894.1075
Stephanie A.E Strugar
Certified Grumbacher Painting & Drawing Instructor.
She is a retired Certified Face/ Body & Temporary Tattoo Artist.
Caricaturist. She is currently an active
Public Speaker, Consultant, and Arts Educator in the Manitoba and greater Canada area.