Nova Scotia

Art festival showcases talent, skill of Nova Scotians with disabilities

Various artists are participating in this year's Art of Disability Festival running this Monday to Friday, hosted by Independent Living Nova Scotia. For the second year in a row, everything is taking place online thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

'It highlights what people are able to do, not what their disabilities are'

One of Megan Schofield's pieces. Schofield is one of the artists participating in the upcoming Art of Disability Festival, which is being held online this year due to COVID-19. (Megan Schofield)

Megan Schofield was raised on stories of a magical school that only taught art: NSCAD University.

She found her way there, but a diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy came just months after she graduated from NSCAD in 2017. Her vision began slipping away, but her passion for art never wavered.

"It just seemed like there was no reason to give up now," said Schofield, who lives in Halifax. "Like, I've come this far. We've got to go further. It's what I really want.

"A couple issues and complications aren't going to bring me down now."

Megan Schofield is a NSCAD University grad, and frequently works with themes of light and dark as they are easiest to see with her limited vision. (Megan Schofield)

Schofield is one of the many artists participating in this year's Art of Disability Festival. It runs Aug. 16-20 and is hosted by Independent Living Nova Scotia. 

For the second year in a row, everything is taking place online as the province and country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the festival, people can check out the virtual catalogue of artists at the ILNS website and visit their personal websites or social media pages to look through any works they have available for sale. 

The online aspect means the event is open to any Canadian artist this year.

First time entering festival

Schofield, who primarily draws, had her vision stabilized after rounds of treatments and injections. But she is legally blind in both eyes without corrective lenses.

Her vision loss has changed her work, she said, leading her to focus more on contrasts like light and dark, which is what's easiest for her to see. 

This is Schofield's first time at the festival, and she said she loved the idea of something highlighting artists and creators who "just don't get as much attention as I think a lot of them should."

Jen Powley, a fellow festival participant and Halifax writer, also said she wanted to take part because she's "constantly amazed" by what other people are able to make. 

Powley has published two books: a memoir called Just Jen about living with multiple sclerosis, and one of interactive fiction titled Sounds Like a Halifax Adventure

"I love creating because I am in control of the words. I get to say when, and how," Powley said via a text-to-speech system.

"The event is important because it highlights what people are able to do, not what their disabilities are."

Writer Jen Powley of Halifax is taking part in this year's Art of Disability Festival (CBC)

She said moving the festival online again this year was the right call since many artists are in vulnerable health situations and this removes any risk.

But the fact that an event like this still has to exist in 2021, in a time when people with disabilities have low rates of employment and little government support, is "disheartening," Powley said.

However, Powley said such a festival is helping build a better province. As Nova Scotia has committed that the province will be accessible by 2030, Powley said the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal is overcoming "deeply ingrained" biases. 

She said the festival shows the talents and imagination of the participants.

Meaghan Ernst, left, and Brad Gabriel are summer co-coordinators for Independent Living Nova Scotia. They are putting together this year's Art of Disability Festival. (Meaghan Ernst, Brad Gabriel)

Meaghan Ernst and Brad Gabriel, summer co-coordinators for ILNS, said in a recent interview they had about 12 artists signed up so far but hoped for many more before the Thursday deadline.

In the past, Ernst said they've had artists in various mediums including books, paintings, sculptures, costume design and many more forms of art.

ILNS is also hosting free virtual events throughout the week on Zoom, including a paint-a-long and dance event.