Artists with disabilities showcase work at UMD exhibitThe Multicultural Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth has been transformed into a makeshift art gallery. All of the artwork has one thing in common: It was contributed by local artists with disabilities.
By: Tom Olsen, Duluth Budgeteer News
The Multicultural Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth has been transformed into a makeshift art gallery. Watercolor paintings hang on walls, a display case holds beaded jewelry and music beats from a 3-D model.
All of the artwork has one thing in common: It was contributed by local artists with disabilities. The gallery is sponsored by the Arrowhead Alliance of Artists with Disabilities (AAAWD) and UMD’s Disability Resources and Access for All.
Several Twin Ports artists have works on display and for sale with the common goal of not only showcasing their works, but also to break down social barriers.
“The eventual mission is to not label ourselves as artists with disabilities, but just as artists,” said Bridget Riversmith, co-founder of AAAWD and a multimedia artist with several gouache paintings and watercolor pencil drawings on display. “But sometimes you need to fall back on identity politics as a starting point.
“We have established artists and midcareer artists in our group, and we understand the challenges of being an artist with a disability and the invisible barriers to inclusion in the greater community, so by embracing identity politics we can meet the needs of emerging artists with disabilities and mentor each other and understand some of the unique challenges.”
Riversmith was a founding member of the Artists with Disabilities Alliance in the Twin Cities. But she said she became tired of traveling to the Twin Cities for meetings, so she helped set up AAAWD in Duluth in 2006.
This is the fourth year the show has been held at UMD. The exhibits will be on display through March 15 in the Multicultural Center, located on the second floor of the Kirby Student Center. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Julie Jeatran, a Duluth artist, recited poetry at the gallery’s opening reception on Monday. Jeatran is also a visual artist, and she said she’s working on ways to weave words into visual mediums. The show is a rare opportunity for her to share her poetry, she said.
“When I write or when I paint, I think it really is a way for me to heal my wounds, as well as express them,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s just people with disabilities that have these experiences, brokenness or aloneness or pain. I believe they are a shared human experience. But it’s nice to be able to take your lemons and make lemonade.”
Shalene Lamont was displaying and selling numerous pieces of jewelry made with beads. She said she took up beading when she was 14, and often worked on the craft while living in a group home. Now living independently, she said she hopes to sell jewelry as a full-time or part-time business.
“My group home wasn’t stable because it was so chaotic there, so I decided I had to find something that I can do that I can grow,” Lamont said. “It was just soothing to do the beadwork and it kind of calmed me down. I thought if I could create a business out of this, this would be excellent.”
Perhaps the most unique gallery piece belonged to Justin Powers, a Duluth artist who normally dabbles in the metal-smithing medium. For this exhibit, he crafted a 3-D model strip club, complete with Peeps marshmallows in a piece he calls “Le Peep Show.”
Powers suffers from a traumatic brain injury and has been losing some use of his arms and hands, but he said working on the piece has helped with that. He said he spent nearly 400 hours designing and furnishing the piece, as well as creating accompanying music.
“Part of the problem with being disabled to various degrees is that you get isolated, and this gets us out,” he said of AAAWD. “And then you also get to bounce ideas off people and perfect things. There’s all kinds of levels — very crude to juvenile to really fantastic — so there’s all different levels and we help each other get better.
Penny Cragun, the director of Disability Resources at UMD, said she’s happy to see the gallery return for another year. In past years, the gallery has been useful to students she works with and other classes and groups, she said.
“It’s helped our student group, Access for All, make connections with artists and individuals with disabilities in the community, but then I think it’s also offered AAAWD a good venue for displaying their art.”
WHAT: Arrowhead Alliance of Artists with Disabilities art exhibit
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday, through March 15
WHERE: Multicultural Center, second floor of the Kirby Center on the UMD campus