Center displays disability-related art

March 10, 2008 7:44:47 AM PDT
A new art and culture center focuses exclusively on disabilities. It is located at Chicago's Access Living. It's the first of it's kind to offers a wide range of activities.

The Disability Arts and Culture Center is a great resource for increasing awareness about people with disabilities from different perspectives.

From the moment you walk into the four-story building you notice art on display.

"The permanent collection here, which are from all over the country and in some cases outside the US, which is all either done by artist with disabilities or art done by non-disabled artist but about disability, and there is no analogous collection anywhere else in this country," said Riva Lehrer, an award-winning artist and one of the leaders of this project.

"Art about disability hasn't been taken seriously," said Riva, "because the idea was that most of the art was being done in community settings and not as part of a professional art career. So what we've been looking for are professional artist with serious track record who are either disabled and are doing well-crafted, interesting, relevant work, in terms of contemporary art, or artist who are not disabled but who have done a lot of work about disability."

Every piece of art has its own story, including one on display by Katie Dallam. She is believed to be the person the film Million Dollar Baby is based on.

"I think Katie was a boxer who was doing it for exercise. She got persuaded to try a title fight and was so badly knocked out that she had traumatic brain injury, was in a coma for quite a while. Before that happened she had already been an artist," Riva said.

The first disability history exhibit is also here.

"It goes across states. It draws things from Pennsylvania and New York, California, other Midwest locations, so it's quite sweeping. But what we did was focus on Chicago, because Chicago has some of the worst and best impulses historically about people with disabilities," said David Mitchell, one of the co-creators.

This unique exhibit was created by two former University of Illinois-Chicago disability studies professors with support of a number of people in the disability community.

"We've rarely come to think of disabled people as a significant social minority, and it's really the creation of a history," said Mitchell. "That social minority that gives them status as kind of coherent collective group that can be followed from one part of history to another, so that act of making a history exhibit was fleshed out and given breath to the experience of disabled people as a collective group who shared experiences within the societies that they've been part of."

Hopefully, the Disability Art and Culture Center will succeed.

"We would look down the road to having a dedicated cultural location that would be all on its own with, you know, decent theater venue and a regular gallery base"," said Riva.

The center also has movies, dances and reading--all disability-related. In fact, they have a dance event coming up Friday, March 14, at 6 p.m. Access Living's Disability Art and Culture Center is located at 115 W. Chicago Ave. in Chicago.

For more information go to