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DisArt exhibit features local artists

The exhibit "DisArt Local: Art is EveryBody" features local artists with series like "The Secrety Society of Disabled People" to "Falling Water" that explore an array of themes.
Shattered Dreams in a Broken World by Deb Dieppa

Shattered Dreams in a Broken World by Deb Dieppa /Sarah Scott

Event Details:

Lady Boy series

Lady Boy series /Robert Coombs

The exhibit “DisArt Local: Art is EveryBody” takes place April 10 through April 25 at 250 Monroe Street Gallery. The exhibit features local artists Robert Coombs, Deb Dieppa, Marylu Dykstra, Reyna Garcia and Anna Greidanus.

On April 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the DisArt Hub on 50 Louis St. NW, there will be a panel discussion with a few of the artists discussing their work

“People often perceive disability as an undesirable state of victimhood. Disabled people are seen as marginal, as representing conditions to be feared and avoided,” says Lisa Van Arragon, curator of the local exhibit. “However for those of us who live with disability, while we are all individuals, we share a common experience and common wisdom that our different bodies are not the problem. Social prejudice and fear, lack of access and barriers to equal participation are the problems.”

Van Arragon is a professor of art history at Calvin College and worked with Chris Smit, her husband and director of the Disart Festival, in developing the event.

The art historian says she and Smit felt that it would be important to highlight the presence of active and engaging disabled artists not only from the national and international art scene, but also within their own community.

The first artist they partnered with was photographer Robert Coombs, winner of the 2012 ArtPrize Social Action Award for his “Disabilities and Sexuality” entry. Coombs’ photography series “The Secret Society of Disabled People” is featured at the exhibit.

“I wanted to create a body of work where the subjects collaborated with me on how they wanted to be photographed and had input on the overall image of themselves,” Coombs says. “It was really important to make a body of work that shows people with disabilities in a more exciting and powerful role, instead of a pity or sympathy gaze.”

Coombs says he wants people to seek out and get to know people with disabilities for who they are, learn about their passions in life and help in changing perceptions of disability.

Marylu Dykstra, program director of Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC), has been a partner for the festival since its inception. Dykstra supported accessibility evaluations and recommendations for routes and spaces, as well as co-developed disability decorum trainings with Smit to help people see disability through a different lens.

"My hope is that people see depth and ability in my work, that they are touched at a deep emotional level and see into the pieces the message, not just the paint,” Dykstra says. “That they see me as a person who struggles every day, yet I can still bring something of value into this world, into my relationships, into my art and into my work.”

Dykstra says the community needs this festival in order to create an inclusive, respectful and mindful approach to working with and interacting with people with visible and invisible disabilities and abilities. 

“Living with disability isn't easy," says Van Arragon. "It's expensive; it's exhausting; it takes courage. But it is not weak or limited. My life has been vastly enriched by the Disabled people I know and love who have shaped my life, challenged my assumptions and helped me see that human experience is so much deeper than the narrow majority culture understanding of ‘normal.’"


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