Nova Scotia

'Art and accessibility go hand in hand' at Halifax festival

The seventh annual Art of Disability Festival showcased the talents of people with disabilities, and gave them the opportunity to showcase and sell their work in an accessible, inclusive space.

Festival gives disabled vendors the opportunity to sell and showcase their art

Mike Drozdowski sells handmade jewelry. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

More than 30 disabled artists showcased and sold their creations Sunday at an accessible, inclusive event in Halifax that included American Sign Language interpreters and sighted guides.

Sara Graham was one of the co-ordinators for the seventh annual Art of Disability Festival. Being partly deaf herself, she recognizes the importance of bringing people with disabilities together to share their art.

"It's about taking risks and chances, and giving opportunity to people who want it," she said. "I think it's really important that accessibility is showcased and I think that art and accessibility go hand in hand."

Helene Comstock, who is partly blind, crochets, weaves, knits and makes ornaments by hand. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

Among the artists were painters, photographers, a maker of pet treats, a DJ, an author and even a chocolatier.

The event was run by Independent Living Nova Scotia, a charity that supports persons with disabilities by enabling them to "remove social and environmental barriers."

Shelley Adams had a table of knitted goods set up near the entrance. Her service dog, Pogo, was beneath the table.

"I'm blind, so I think that it's kind of an interesting craft to have," she said. "A lot of people think it's so visual, but I learned when I lost my vision. I love being able to create different patterns based on how things feel."

The seventh annual Art of Disability Festival took place Sunday, Aug. 12 at the Westin Nova Scotian hotel in Halifax. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

Beside Adams was Helene Comstock, who's partly blind. Her table was filled with bright, colourful items. She makes items like crocheted items, cards and Christmas ornaments.

Comstock uses her partial blindness to influence her art.

Shelley Adams and her service dog, Pogo, attended the festival for the first time. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

"It's a lot to do with colour," she said. "When I look at a picture of something, sometimes because of my vision it's all blurry, but I can see the colours."

Comstock is no stranger to disability festivals and said this was her third or fourth time attending.

"I always look forward to coming here," she said. "It's a good way to meet other artists and promote my own art, so it's very good that they have this event."

Dennis McCormack is a poet and songwriter. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

At the front of the ballroom, Dennis McCormack recited his poetry on stage. Besides visual art, artists are invited to showcase song, dance and other performances. For McCormack, it's a way to make his written art more accessible to people.

"I'm making the poetry available now not only in word but in sound," he said. "What brings me here is the profound ability and capability of these different disabilities.

"We have people here with physical challenges, mental challenges, but they're people who have a story to tell, a talent to share." 

Dennis McCormack described a painting by Kimberly Csihas in this way: 'I just saw a painting where I saw fingers holding up light in a dark world. That light will become the light that we all need.' (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

McCormack said the art often reflects how people with disabilities experience life.

"I love to come here because their artwork takes me away," he said. "I just saw a painting where I saw fingers holding up light in a dark world, and that light will become the light that we all need."

About the Author

Jenny Cowley is an investigative journalist in Toronto. She has previously reported for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at Jenny.cowley@cbc.ca.