Grand Rapids festival spotlights artists with disabilities By JEFFREY KACZMARCZYK
The Grand Rapids Press Updated 4:13 am, Friday, April 10, 2015
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A new art festival debuts in Grand Rapids in April and immediately becomes one of the largest of its kind in the world.
DisArt Festival, a 15-day event to broaden an understanding of disability through the arts art, as well as to develop an appreciation for work by artists with disabilities, begins Friday in downtown Grand Rapids, according to The Grand Rapids Press ( http://bit.ly/1C6Nqj8 ).
Art exhibitions, independent films, fashion and performance art are part of the citywide festival continuing through April 25 with a goal of championing creativity, conquering prejudice and strengthening the wider community.
The opening of DisArt Festival coincides with Art.Downtown, an annual showcase and strolling open house of downtown artists' studios and galleries, sponsored by Avenue for the Arts, on Friday.
Smaller disabilities events, including "Bodies of Work" in Chicago, have been held before, but nothing quite like the inaugural DisArt Festival, said Chris Smit, director of DisArt Festival and an associate professor of media studies at Calvin College.
"This is the largest Disability Arts Festival ever to be programmed in the United States — maybe even in the world, although there are a couple in the United Kingdom that come close," Smit said.
In fact, the cornerstone of DisArt is an international exhibition of art from Great Britain that opens Friday for a 16-week exhibition in three locations: Grand Rapids Art Museum, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Urban Institute for Contemporary Art.
"Art of the Lived Experiment," which debuted in Liverpool, England, last year, at the 2014 DaDa Festival in Great Britain, will include work by 19 artists from abroad, including sculptorTony Heaton and performance artist Simon Raven, in the first and only scheduled show in the United States.
The exhibition debuted in the Bluecoat in Liverpool, the oldest building in the city's center, but one that was severely damaged in World War II and only was rebuilt in the past decade as an experimental, contemporary arts space.
"The fact that we can look at how we create art from different perspectives, from different contexts, is really quite exciting," said Ruth Gould, artistic director of the DaDa Festival, which stands for Deaf and Disability.
Seven additional, newly commissioned works by American artists, including by mixed-media artist Jeremy Burleson and by performance artist Raphaelle de Groot, curated by Amanda Cachia, will be an additional part of the exhibition in Grand Rapids.
"To actually see how more American work will be added to it, I think, will show a real growing concept," Gould said.
Gould as well as original curator Aaron Williamson and several featured artists, will be in Grand Rapids for the opening reception on Friday.
DisArt Festival, which will take place in more than 10 venues in Grand Rapids, has a mission to change minds about disability.
An exhibition of photography chronicling the disability civil rights movement opens April 10 at Calvin College's (106) Gallery.
"Access is a Civil Right: The Photography of Tom Olin" features documentary photographs by Olin, who will be in Grand Rapids for the festival.
"Tom has been with the disability civil rights movement since the 1980s, followed it all the way through to the adoption of the ADA, and is still taking pictures of protests all over the country regarding the justice movement in disability culture," Smit said. "He's a troubadour, a wonderful, journalistic photographer whose work has never really had a chance to be collected like it will be for DisArt Festival."
Two other exhibitions open Friday for the DisArt Festival:
"DisArt Local" at 250 Monroe Street Gallery will include work by local artists Marylu Dykstra,Derrick Hollowell, Deb Diepa, and Reyna Garcia. The show is curated by Smit and Elizabeth VanArragon and designed by students from Kendall College of Art and Design under professorPaul Amenta.
"Robert Andy Coombs: New Portraits" at the DisArt Hub is a solo exhibition by the photographer.
Funded in part by separate $50,000 grants from the national Endowment for the Arts and from the Wege Foundation in Grand Rapids.
DisArt Festival is part of a larger initiative that'll be undertaken by the city of Grand Rapids, which has designated 2015 as the "Year of Arts + Access," celebrating the artistic ingenuity of the city, focusing on ways to build community and celebrate diversity.
"This is going to be an extraordinary year for us in Grand Rapids in which we focus on the creative abilities of our people," said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, in December.
Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, http://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids
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