Disability artists push network forward

Artists with disabilities are revitalizing plans to establish a peer-to-peer network to share information and promote their own development within the province.

The BC Regional Integrated Arts Network plans to bring both individuals and organizations together to provide them with advocacy, member services and funding support. Kickstart, a local nonprofit organization focused on arts and disability culture, originally conceived the notion in 2006. Through some seed funding through 2010 Legacies Now and the BC Arts Council, they will now be proceeding with building on the conceptual plans from the past few years.

Geoff McMurchy is Kickstart’s artistic director. At a recent organizing meeting in March, he said BRIAN has been a little adrift for a year or two because of the lack of financial resources and personnel power. As a result of funding for the 2010 Kickstart Festival, however, they’ve been able to hire an executive director, double the number of people participating in the board of directors and work through the strategic planning for the network. McMurchy is hoping to build a strong steering committee including some regional representatives from around the province.

“There’s room at the table for everyone,” he said, noting that’s why the word integrated was chosen to be part of the new name. The network aims to engage both artists with disabilities as well as disability artists. These may sound like the same people but the distinction lies in the role disability takes for each artist. The former are artists first with their disability not being the foremost part of their work. The latter are artists whose work is informed by their disability and then convey this through their artwork.

Catherine Frazee, is the director of the Ryerson RBC Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education in Ontario. She attended the recent Kickstart Festival and BRIAN meeting held in Vancouver.

“It’s a pretty darn exciting time. There’s great possibilities for shifting paradigms,” she said about the cultural work of people with disabilities.

BRIAN plans to do that by promoting and sharing information about such work, particularly by connecting people within the province.

Cool Arts in Kelowna, founded by Sara Lige, is one such group participating in the network. Her nonprofit organization believes that everyone should have the opportunity to express themselves though the arts. She runs fine arts workshops for adults with developmental disabilities. Lige says such work is an opportunity for participants to make choices, which they don’t often get to make, and let’s them claim an identity other than disability. Cool Arts recently mounted a major exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery.

Start with Art Nanaimo has established an art studio space called Studio 366. While created for people with cognitive disabilities, it aims to involve everyone in creating and showing art. Paul Best, one of its board members, said one of SWAN’s successes has been to have people with and without disabilities hanging out together.

Pandora Arts Collective Society in Victoria was created for people with mental health issues. It runs a studio and gallery space in the Fernwood Community Centre and gives people a safe place to create art.

For more information about BRIAN, contact Kickstart via programs@kickstart-arts.ca.

About Kerry Hall

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