New Brunswick

Virtual event aims to help disabled Atlantic artists find community, funding

The Disability Atlantic Arts Symposium, a virtual event aimed at helping disabled artists succeed, is a collaboration between artists and art groups, including Theatre New Brunswick and the JRG Society for the Arts.

Symposium features panels on how to make it in ableist spaces, chance to seek funding

Ysabelle Vautour, a visually impaired painter, is one of the organizers of the virtual event. (Ysabelle Vautour)

Ysabelle Vautour said it still feels weird to call herself a professional artist, considering she only recently started pursuing a career in art.

Her website, which shows off examples of her art and where she tries to connect with patrons, is only a few months old.

But she said she jumped at the chance to help organize the Disability Atlantic Arts Symposium, a virtual event aimed at helping disabled artists succeed.

"One of the people in that network saw a presentation that I did about a year and a half ago [where] I pitched an idea to create a New Brunswick Disability Arts Festival," said Vautour. 

"The idea is roughly the same, except it's on a bigger scale and now I have help. … It was pretty awesome that the person who connected us just so happened to be at that presentation and thought of me." 

Building community

The symposium is a collaboration between several artists and art groups, including Theatre New Brunswick and the JRG Society for the Arts.

Natasha MacLellan, Theatre New Brunswick's artistic director and JRG Society board member, said she thought it was important for the group to promote disabled artists in the community.

"We wanted to do more because one of the things that artists with disabilities often say is that they feel isolated in their work and there doesn't feel like there's any community. And of course, that just got heightened in COVID," said MacLellan. 

Natasha MacLellan, Theatre New Brunswick's artistic director, said the event aims to build community for disabled artists, who have said their work can be isolating. (Theatre New Brunswick)

"So the symposium kind of came together that way."

The symposium will feature panels on how disabled artists can establish themselves in ableist spaces and how they can access funding. It will also give artists a chance to speak with potential patrons directly.

Most of the panels are limited to artists who have a disability.

"It's really important that the artists get a chance to talk in a closed, safe space where they can talk about things that matter to them without having to explain them to anybody," said MacLellan.

Making space

Vautour said having a space for disabled artists is invaluable because they face barriers to organizing that other marginalized groups don't.

"Usually they're like in communities, you're not usually separated from your group, but persons with disabilities are ... we're all over the place," said Vautour.

She said being a disabled artist does impose some limits on how she can create and even promote her art.

Vautour has a visual impairment and a lot of her work features close ups because she paints by zooming in on photos she views on her cellphone.

Vautour said being a painter with a visual impairment can pose challenges both in creating and selling her work. (Sarah Morin/CBC)

She's also colour blind, which means she has to have someone label all of her supplies with the correct colour.

"If I were to cook a meal versus make a painting, I can follow all the steps … but it's like I've never tasted the meal," said Vautour.

"I don't know what it actually looks like to a normal sighted audience."

There's also difficulty in selling her work that other artists may not encounter.

"People ask me like, 'Oh, why don't you go to the market?' I'm like, 'Well, I don't drive a car, so … this is not a practical idea,' " said Vautour. 

"There are issues like that that people take for granted that they don't even think about."

Increasing accommodation

For Theatre New Brunswick's part, MacLellan said it is working to make the group more accommodating to people with disabilities.

"It certainly is part of our mission or our view that we want to make the company more accessible in every regard and more of a community–minded company," said MacLellan.

"That is something we're working on now to make sure that the building is accessible, that washrooms are, for when the public comes in. So we're trying to tackle things as we get the opportunity."

The Disability Atlantic Arts Symposium will take place October 22-24.

While the panels are free, Vautour said the group is looking for donations so the symposium can become a yearly event.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Gill

Reporter

Jordan Gill is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton. He can be reached at jordan.gill@cbc.ca.

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