Thursday April 19, 2018
Art is a language of its own. It has the ability to enlighten and engage, often creating a line of communication not otherwise found. The current exhibit at the Flynn Center’s Amy E. Tarrant Gallery in Burlington has much to say. Titled Flourish, it showcases Vermont artists with disabilities. Their work, including paintings in acrylic, oil, and watercolor; drawings in ink, pastel, crayon, and charcoal; photographs; ceramics; weaving; as well as mixed-media sculpture and assemblages, speaks volumes. Curator of the exhibit, John R. Killacky, describes the show as “demonstrating an extraordinary range of aesthetic expression.”
Flourish is a collaboration between the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, VSA Vermont (VSA VT), and the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The concept began six years ago when the Flynn hosted an exhibition presented by VSA VT, a nonprofit arts and education organization dedicated to making the arts accessible to Vermonters of all abilities. That exhibit, titled Engage, featured 35 Vermont artists with disabilities. Killacky, who is the current Flynn executive director, says this year’s exhibit has been two years in the making.
“I had the pleasure of curating this show. In the call for applicants, we did not ask the artists what their disabilities were, since society too often defines people by their disability. Here we want people to ‘flourish’ as artists. A statewide call garnered 46 submissions with 31 artists selected,” says Killacky.
As art often does, along with the visual enjoyment, the exhibit asks viewers to consider their personal understanding of what it means to be disabled. The aesthetically robust pieces help break down perception and stereotypes, all while simply being works of art. “Too often people are defined by their disability. When someone who uses a wheelchair comes into a room, oftentimes others only see the chair and not the person,” explains Killacky, who offers this insightful description of the word disabled, “Differently abled which changes the language from less than to merely different than.”
Killacky, an artist himself, speaks from experience. “22 years ago, I, myself, became paraplegic, and use a cane as a result of complication from spinal surgery.” To take the executive role at the Flynn, Killacky and his husband moved to South Burlington in 2010. A passionate advocate for artists, his work at the Flynn, the state’s premiere theatre venue and arts organization, has been hailed as transformative, not only in the organization’s growth, but in its commitment to access and inclusiveness. A commitment seen in the Flourish exhibit.
Killacky notes that the Flynn’s education team is also collaborating with VSA VT to train teaching artists from each organization to lead gallery tours for people with dementia and their caregivers. In addition, to enhance attendees’ experience, audio descriptions, print information in braille and large print, and tactile representations of selected works in the exhibition are available. He says, “The beauty and variety of aesthetic expression is impressive. By not labeling each of the artists’ disabilities, gallery visitors only encounter the art.”
Last September, Killacky announced he will step down from his executive director role in June.
He says he is “definitely staying in South Burlington and thinking about what I want my service to the community to be.”
The Flourish exhibit opened April 7 with a reception. Killacky reported, “The opening was extraordinary with over 100 people attending. So powerful to see many of the folks in the exhibition feeling empowered and called ‘artist’ for the first time in their life. Many told me how they didn’t feel so isolated and glad to make connections with other artists with disabilities.”
The exhibit remains open through June 30. Flourish artists include Marguerite Adelman, Willow Bascom, Larry Bissonnette, Lindsay Bluto, Makayla Cota, Gwendolyn Evans, Dan Fisher, Robert Alan Gold, Katrina Hagen, Jef Hill, Annie Jackson, Todd Julius, Anna King, Alexis Kyriak, Carol Langstaff, Michael Leavitt, Karen J. Lloyd, Winnie Looby, Lennon Manson, Justin McQuiston, Michelle Monroe, Lissa Nilsson, James Primm, Sasha Maglen Ross Becker, Eva Seyller, Kaelyn Shannon, Jonah P. Sprout, Melody Squires, Kathy Velon, Pamela Wagner, and Gail Wheeler.
“Organizing the exhibition, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet many of the artists, their families, caregivers, and communication partners. Their backstories only amplify the majestic artistic accomplishments on view,” says Killacky. On experiencing Flourish for yourself, he adds, “Be surprised, challenged, and enjoy the exhibition of 31 wonderful Vermont artists who just happen to be disabled.”
SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper