Artists Creating Together
Artists Creating Together (ACT)--All Arts, All Abilities--is a 30-year-old organization that serves around 6,000 participants every year. ACT empowers individuals with disabilities to learn, grow, and celebrate through the arts. The organization has partnered with ArtPrize in the following ways: curating an exhibit at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel featuring artists with disabilities, providing professional development to ArtPrize artists with disabilities, providing inclusion and accessibility training to the ArtPrize staff, and creating educational programing during ArtPrize Education Days.
ArtPrize: Have you seen a shift within the general public or the community of students with disabilities and their ability to experience art since working with ArtPrize?
Angela Steele, ACT Executive Director:
Arts and cultural entities are becoming more inclusive of the disability community in their ArtPrize installations and in their venues as a whole. Entities are coming to ACT and asking, “Hey, how can my staff be better equipped to bring in more special education classrooms for individuals with disabilities? Why do you think special education teachers aren’t signing up to come to our field trips? How do we prepare when we have a group with special needs coming to our event? How do we make touchable, sensory-based art?” And I think this is due in part to ArtPrize’s efforts to become more inclusive, so we’re thankful to be part of the movement.
Also, over the past 5 years, some of the adults that we serve that have disabilities are entering ArtPrize on their own outside of ACT. I feel that ArtPrize has done a really good job in assisting them through that process. Regardless of ability or communication level, ArtPrize staff has helped people find a venue and navigate the registration process. The extra assistance makes participating in ArtPrize attainable for people of all abilities.
And much of that circles back to your involvement in coming down to the ArtPrize office and facilitating training to our staff to ensure that everyone on our team knows how to walk through those processes and communicate effectively with artists of all abilities. That training has been a big help in that process on our end.
So, I know a lot of people in educational fields talk a lot about learning just as much from the students they are working with as they are teaching the students themselves. What’s a lesson that you have learned through your students that has really moved you recently?
This summer, we hired a culinary art teacher who has a disability to teach our Art of Gardening class. It is so important for young adults with disabilities to see other people with disabilities in leadership positions and in the community as professional artists. So that was a huge win, and it was really moving for me to be able to do that for our students. We will continue to reach out to local professional artists who have disabilities to be in leadership positions so our students are able to learn alongside creatives who they relate to in terms of disability.
What would you say the biggest roadblock that is still in place as far as bringing more arts into the community of students and adults with disabilities?
Wheelchair accessibility. We still struggle with accessibility in older buildings, maybe the elevator isn’t working or the walkways between the art displays are too small to navigate. Some of the bigger, more established places are easier to navigate.
One of our students with a visual impairment who recently did a speaking engagement for us encourages entities to create more touchable art. She uses the museums and ArtPrize as examples, where many exhibits say, “Don’t Touch.” She’s advocating for more touchable, sensory-based art that people can experience in a different way. At ACT, we are strategic about where we bring people so that there are opportunities for experiencing art through all the senses.
Alternately, what is a win you’ve seen lately?
We host art exhibits around the year for the general public to attend. Often when the general public attends one of our events for the very first time, there is someone who will come up to me just shocked saying, “Oh my gosh I can’t believe that people with disabilities created this art! I thought it was going to just be arts and crafts.” While that comment is a little frustrating to me, I am thankful that people are having the realization that — Yeah! These are artists! These are people with talent and a story to tell! I want to continue to build awareness in the general public about the amazing work that these artists are able to create.
Photos from ACT programming at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market during ArtPrize Nine.