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What is the most potent way to express the diversity of the human experience? An experience at once wonderful and tumultuous, shared and isolated, delicate and harsh, fragile and strong? An experience so multi-faceted, yet so often standardized or misunderstood? Many would make an argument for The Arts.

On September 10, The Film, Art and Culture Festival—first in the series of five events celebrating and promoting community inclusion of persons with disabilities—showcased the talents of people with disabilities and of people who are not afraid to talk about our vulnerabilities in very creative ways. Exhibits ranged from painting and photography, to live performances of poetry and song; disabilities ranged from physical to mental, visible to invisible.

Cody TresierraOne of the major contributions of the event was opening up the conversation about what it means to create through the lens of disability, and what it means to have arts as the most powerful, and oftentimes the only, means of self-expression. To highlight the lived experiences and narratives of people whose voices are devalued and rarely heard is a powerful thing.

The collective of artists and their craft represented such voice at the Festival. Among some of the artists, organizations and works featured at the event were Artists Helping Artists (AHA), JustPotters, The Art Studios of Vancouver Health, the whimsical cat paintings of A.J. Brown, The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, one of whom—SCI BC peer Cody Tresierra—kept busy painting throughout the festival. Throughout, Greg Labine, the Mark Ash Band, Glenn David Loft and Danielle Hayes provided a great musical and literary background.

One of the powerful examples of reclaiming one’s voice was the Imagining Inclusion project and its photography exhibition. Imagining Inclusion is a community-based participatory research collaboration that asks participants with mental illness to express their views of inclusion through photographs. This approach, called Photovoice, allows participants to become active collaborators in the project and serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of continuing the discussion around the stigmatization of mental illness. Each photo is a story—painful, uncomfortable, but very insightful and honest. One of the participants of the project, who identified as a person with a mental illness, told me that coming forward about it through a project like this is a step towards pushing the conversation about this invisible disability. (My personal favourite, a photograph called “Fragility of Life,” depicted stones of different sizes stacked on top of each other. What a great metaphor of human body—unstable and fragile, yet resilient and strong.)

IMG_8573The film and performance portion of the event touched on very diverse themes across genres ranging from short documentary and animated films, to poetry, comedy and dance. Poet Kirsteen Main, whose mom read short works from her daughter’s book “Dear Butterfly: 50 Poems by Kirsteen Main,” consolidated two different art forms by having each of her poems depicted in a corresponding painting. Andrew Vallance added a pinch of humour to liven up the evening by trying his hand at stand-up comedy (and making a good part of the audience blush.) And our SCI BC peer Sylvi MacCormac captured the audience’s attention with her live singing and accompanying electronic composition. (You can watch Sylvi’s enchanting “Aural Shadows” here.)

The Festival ended with a powerful dance performance by Jenny Magenta, a performance artist and burlesque dancer with an invisible disability.

The day of art, films and performances came together as one coherent piece of art symbolizing our differences and similarities all at once. Before the evening was over, one of the speakers made a point: this event challenges our assumptions about each other. What a great summary of the festival’s intention!

There are three more events in this series which culminates with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3. Up next: the Health, Recreation & Community Accessibility Fair on October 5. Join us at the Creekside Community Centre to learn how to get active, and to reach your health and fitness goals! Stay tuned for more information, or click here for details.

 Photos: Open Door Group 

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