Disability discussed through art in Grand Rapids


GVL \ Sheila Babbitt

Allison Rafferty, Staff Reporter

Saturday September 28 and Sunday September 29, DisArt presented “Voices” as part of Project 1 at Tanglefoot and Critical Infrastructure. The multimedia exhibition started at 12 p.m. and lasted until 9 p.m. both days, with live performances occurring periodically during those times. Free to the public, the exhibition allowed those in attendance to experience and understand the alienation and belonging members of the disabled community experience in their daily lives. 

The title, “Voices,” comes from the voices of many members of the disabled community that were presented in both audio and captioning formats, and were the main part of the exhibition. DisArt also partnered with local artists to create pieces in response to the stories presented. 

Another multimedia aspect put on display throughout the duration of the exhibition was photographs. Those in attendance were also encouraged to interact with the exhibition by recording their own story during a personal interview with a DisArt volunteer, as well as sharing their reactions to all “Voices” had to offer. 

This was the first time that the “Voices” exhibit has been put on. So far, the only plans to continue the exhibition in the future are to have Grand Rapids Ballet incorporate their performance into their Jumpstart program that will take place from March 6-8 in 2020.

Grand Rapids Ballet’s performance includes four dancers who listened to interviews and met with one participant each, and then choreographed solo dances that corresponded with the specific stories of those individuals. All four dances were performed on stage during “Voices.” 

Co-founder and co-director of DisArt Jill Vyn said that the idea behind “Voices” was inspired by DisArt’s motivation “to increase the voice, visibility, and value of Disabled people.”

Vyn added that DisArt’s mission is that they believe “that expressions of a disability cultural identity can transform society from awareness to understanding to belonging, creating a community that enjoys the full and equitable participation of all disabled people.”

The intended impact for “Voices” to have on audience members is connected to its ability to offer narratives of disability that are rarely heard, Vyn said. 

“The stories of powerful self advocates are the heartbeat of this immersive exhibition and act as an invitation to those who are on their own journey of self-discovery about what it means to be a Disabled,” Vyn said.

A major aspect of creating and putting on this exhibition was collaboration.

“’Voices’ has been a collaborative project from start to finish,” Vyn said. 

Vyn explained that the collaboration process went from working with Project 1 artists Ted Lott and Paul Amenta on the creation of Critical Infrastructure to working with all of the artists and volunteers who helped bring “Voices” to life.

Local visual artists, Hwa-Jeen Na, Elise Kutt and Kaitlin Grant created the abstract visual imagery for the exhibition and collaborated with DisArt to create the immersive exhibition.