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

DisArt Festival seeks to change perceptions about disability through art
Photo courtesy

Friday, April 10, marks the start of the DisArt Festival, a 15-day event seeking to change perceptions about disability – one work of art at a time.

Directed by Jill Vyn and Calvin CAS professor Chris Smit, this international exhibit is premiering in downtown Grand Rapids and will showcase the work of artists with disabilities through performance pieces, fashion, discussions and art.

“The ultimate test of living in a community is found in our willingness to reach out and understand one another,” says Director Jill Vyn. “Art is one such catalyst that can provoke us into changing our perceptions and opinions.”

According to the last census, 14-20 percent of people living in Grand Rapids right now live with some kind of disability, so the Festival is an opportunity to develop community collaboration and understanding of the difficulties associated with being disabled.

“There are over 20,000 disabled individuals in Grand Rapids that want to be a part of what this city does, and not just be a patron or a client of it. They want be involved in its space,” says Professor Smit.

The DisArt Festival will provide just such an opportunity.

This will partly be done through exhibitions — featuring shows by local artists such as Robert Coombs, Reyna Garcia and Calvin professor Anna Greidanus.

There will also be several performances, including a DisArt fashion show hosted by Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) which will uniquely feature models with disabilities.

The festival will also feature an independent film screening at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), where actor Mat Fraser of “American Horror Story” will speak about his experience with disability in the media.

Throughout the festival there will be panel discussions, artist talks and performance pieces — all centered around the “DisArt Hub” on 50 Louis Street.

Calvin’s 106 Gallery will also serve as a venue for several events. All events are free, open to the public and will work to encourage equality and social inclusion.

What will ultimately make the festival successful, however, aren’t just the attendees of the festival events, but the much needed help of volunteers.

“Right now, we have over 550 volunteer shift needs throughout the festival,” says Volunteer Coordinator Sally Schaafsma. These volunteer shifts range include tour guide docents, photographers, way finders, art gallery attendants and even sign language interpreters.

A full list of volunteer positions is available on the DisArt website, including times for required volunteer training during which volunteers will learn about their positions and receive a free T-shirt.

Volunteer shifts are flexible around individual schedules. Schaafsma encourages those interested to visit the DisArt Festival website and look under the “volunteer tab.”

According to the directors, DisArt Festival 2015 will put Grand Rapids on the map in the disability arts world. The premiere of the international exhibit, Art of the Lived Experiment, will mark the first time an international disability art display of this magnitude has traveled anywhere in the United States.

In addition, the 2015 Year of Arts and Access has potential to reverberate throughout the Midwest, showcasing Grand Rapids as a city supporting and encouraging radical changes in perceptions about disability, access and community.

Director Jill Vyn explains, “Through this work that we’re doing with [DisArt], we’re seeing organizations work together in ways they may not have done in the past, and finding how we can all fit together.”

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