Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Professor receives Champion of Diversity Award from Grand Rapids mayor

“Jeen Na”
Photo courtesy Chris Smit

Last weekend Chris Smit, professor of communication arts and sciences, was awarded the Champion of Diversity Award by Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. Three other prominent disability activists were also awarded.

The award recognizes Smit’s role as the director of the Arts and Access Initiative for Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD), as well as his work on the development of DisArt Festival 2015 and the Year of Arts + Access.

The DisArt festival will feature works of art that are intended to challenge the community’s perceptions about disability.

“Disability is not something to be feared. It’s not supposed to be a mystery. It’s not even meant to be inspiring, it’s just part of the human condition, and we have this idea that art creates conversation,” said Smit.

DisArt Festival 2015 seeks to foster this conversation. It focuses on the ways in which art can help build community, celebrate diversity and incorporate all members of the community.

“The goal of the festival has always been to create conversations about living together in community,“ said Smit in a press release, “Art has this wonderful way of challenging our expectations of one another, while at the same time offering us a common thread of experience. That’s exactly what these world-class art exhibitions will offer audiences.”

An excerpt from DisArt’s mission statement highlights the need for understanding the complex identities of everyone in the community.

“By celebrating art practices that aim to elevate an understanding of the human condition of disability, we encourage all people, disabled or not, to appreciate the complex identities of those around them. By increasing access to exemplary examples of disability art and culture, DisArt awakens a spirit of ability equality, social inclusion, physical accessibility, community and a sense of place for those living with disability.”

For Smit, the award is not only a recognition of his recent work with DisArt, but also a personal honor.

“Well, personally, [the award] stands as a reminder that my calling has been true in some ways,” said Smit. “It’s an affirmation that the work I’ve done is helping people.”

Smit also views the award as a step in the right direction for Grand Rapids.

“In giving me that award, the mayor is affirming that Grand Rapids is on a trajectory toward future development of access for disabled people,” said Smit.

According to Mayor Heartwell, Smit is a wonderful advocate for those with physical disabilities to express themselves and make a difference.

“Chris Smit is a dynamic leader who knows how to get things done,” said Heartwell in a press release. “Physical disability is not a limiting factor on creativity. No one proves that better than Chris.”

More to Discover