In August 2017, Tim Gore, our Development Director and Courtney Stone, IL Senior Manager came to me with a hare-brained idea to put on an art show featuring local artists with disabilities, the first Friday of September, which was four weeks away. It was a great idea to pull our artists into the thriving First Friday Art Walk held every month in Colorado Springs, but four weeks? I shook my head and started to say, “You two are old enough to know that you can’t pull off something like that in four weeks!” I stopped for a moment and thought, “Well, rather than me telling them, it would be better if they found it out on their own. A painful lesson for sure, but at some point in everyone’s career, they have to learn to plan ahead.”
Later, I found out they left my office laughing and saying, “Was that a challenge? We’ll show her!” And just like that, The Art of Accessibility (AoA) was born in exactly four weeks! Now we are changing the art world in the Pikes Peak region to be more inclusive of persons with disabilities. People came to all 4 events we put on over the past year. Artists with disabilities showed their art, received feedback, and sold their work.Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College decided, with a little prodding from Tim and Courtney, to purchase an accessible pottery wheel. Paul Spotts, our assistive technology staff person with quadriplegia, had to be dragged to the pottery class to try out the wheel. Once there, he was the one who enjoyed it so much he had to be dragged away! This reaction so inspired the Fine Arts Center staff, that they are starting to market their classes to persons with disabilities.
Next, we noticed the van used to transport people to and from various art venues was not accessible to patrons who used mobility devices. This might explain why galleries were not really seeing people with disabilities during the First Friday Art walks. Tim and Courtney informed Art Walk staff of the need for an accessible vehicle to serve First Friday patrons. After several months of discussion an accessible van showed up at the Art Walk venues!
Meanwhile, back at the Art of Accessibility events, staff started to add exhibits. We had a dance troupe of persons with intellectual disabilities and the most recent event, held in September 2018, featured a fashion show of sharply dressed men and women with disabilities. Each person’s attire was described by the MC and each told a bit of their story. One person in particular surprised me as I had never heard him speak a full sentence. There he was chatting away with the audience while showing off his beautiful jacket, tailored just for him, thanks to the Men’s Exchange! Who knew this little event could be so life changing?
In October, Art of Accessibility won best gallery exhibit at the Pikes Peak Arts Council awards. The IC was the only non-art focused organization to be nominated, let alone win. It was a big deal! Now our event has been selected to receive the 2019 Business for the Arts Award presented by Colorado Business Committee for the Arts. While we are thrilled to be noticed, it is really about showcasing and empowering artists with disabilities across the state. Perhaps other communities will look at our event and think of ways to include their local artists with disabilities.
And I learned to let go and let others do things differently than I would! There is always more than one way to accomplish a goal, as Tim and Courtney had so much fun in showing me!