TSG Podcast – Episode 2: Cripping the Arts

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EPISODE 2: Cripping the Arts

In this episode of the Third Space Gallery Podcast, Abigail Smith speaks with Ysabelle Vautour, an Acadian artist and art teacher, who started out working in mental health and disability support, and Christiana Myers, a curator, writer, artist and museum educator on how to bring disability and accessibility out of a box to check on a form and into the reality of art spaces and art practices. 

While Ysabelle Vautour worked in mental health and disability support, she began learning a lot about the community around her and the people within it who were trying to access services, this in turn led her to want to understand what is preventing people from accessing the services they need.

Sometimes, accessibility services can be known as a “bonus” to a situation when the disability community is the largest minority group that anyone can be a part of, especially in New Brunswick. Disabilities are not something people think of right away when they think of minority groups, which is why there is such a lack of services and access for accessibility and disability support. Abigail points out how difficult accessibility seems to be in the City of Saint John as there is a major lack of resources to even begin conversations about accessibility, especially since the city itself is inaccessible. 

Ysabelle explains disability language, and how inaccessible disability paperwork can be if you do not have a background in disability services. For example, grant forms for artists with disabilities are not written in plain language, many artists end up not understanding what they are being asked and may even opt out of the opportunity due to how complicated the language can be to understand. Disability in the media is also a difficult terrain, it is full of false information, tropes and ableist ideas – this leads to a generalized misunderstanding on the topic.

Ysabelle notes that historical context is important when doing art. For example, there are not many visual artists noted in the history of the disability arts community, mostly performers. Supporting disability in art can very easily be taken as belittling and can take away artist credibility as people are more likely to promote an artist with a disability rather than art that is well made.  Artists with disabilities do not want to be known only as an artist with a disability. Artists within the disability community often dread the labor of disclosing their disability because it often leads to more questions; the conversation of art is often derailed by the topic of disability. Disclosing a disability can be important, though Ysabelle explains that artists do not want the tension between asking for accessibility and not wanting charity in return. In order to help create accessibility, organizations need to have a, “how can we do this differently” mindset, they need to focus on noticing something is happening, that there is a problem and using it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and find a solution.

As an artist, Ysabelle believes societal expectations of artists are too critical, which often leads to mental blocks in art. Why are pressures so thick when it comes to art? Ysabelle explains that there is a “hyper focus on the visual and less focus on the experience of the art itself.” In order to combat the pressure of creating perfect art, Ysabelle tries to take the visual aspect out in order to shift the focus of her art to be more about her own enjoyment and experience. Art is made the way it is because of the person who made it, their influences and abilities. 

Abigail then transitions into her conversation with Christiana Myers about how accessibility in the arts can be accomplished. The idea of, “cripping the arts” comes from Myers’ Canadian Art Magazine article, “On the Complexity of Cripping the Arts” describes what exactly cripping the arts means: “To crip the arts is to embrace the ways that disability can disrupt the status quo and lead with difference. By cripping or subverting the language used within the arts, exclusionary or patronizing tropes related to disability can be dismantled. Allowing access and inclusion to be standardized, terminology to be reclaimed, artist and audience to be empowered, and proper representation to be achieved.” Cripping the arts focuses on disrupting the status quo to make institutions more accessible across many fronts, rather than to just “specialized” audiences. 

Through exploring the pandemic and its relationship to the demands of disability in art communities, Christiana noticed accommodations that were fast tracked during the COVID 19 pandemic because access needs became the concern of the generally non disabled public – things that the disabled community have been requesting, things that were “luxuries” turned into requirements for everyone. 

Within the arts scene, organizations are generally concerned about how many people will access their works. Christiana outlines how accessibility is a great first step to draw people in. For example, embracing accessibility changes instead of seeing these changes as necessary obligations or an added bonus. This then changes event programming, creates different ways into the same experience, and opens different pathways that will allow more people to be involved in an event. From a larger accessibility perspective, online engagement would allow national engagement, and opportunities for networking and would bridge the gap of communication between communities. 

Art organizations need to be more aware of their audiences and how to attract new members, according to Christiana. Contemporary art centers can be very intimidating for newcomers who may struggle to understand the art they are experiencing. Offering installations online allows visitors to engage with the art without the pressures of interacting with people or being overstimulated in a busy atmosphere. Christiana outlines that it is important that organizations are making sure people who may be pushed away by pressures are feeling supported, seen and heard when they want to access opportunities within the contemporary art community. 

Artist Profile - The Third Space Gallery Podcast, host Abigail Smith, with Local 107.3fm

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    The Third Space Gallery Podcast is hosted and produced by former Third Space Board Member and THIRD SHIFT Festival Associate Abigail Smith, with production support from Local 107.3fm. It features themed episodes with artists, community members, and professionals.

    Listen to all available episodes on SpotifyApple Music, or on ThirdSpaceGallery.ca.

    Theme music is Norwood Falls by Wangled Teb, and artwork is by Jud Crandall of Pulp and Paper Designs. 

    If you are interested in broadcasting or podcasting, reach out to Saint John’s only Campus and Community Radio Station, Local 107.3fm for more information. Email Local FM Station Manager Julia Rogers at julia@cfmh.ca or go to their website at localfm.ca.