To highlight Disability Awareness Month, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in partnership with the Collaborative of the Finger Lakes, will host a Disability and the Arts Festival throughout the month of April.
“The aim of the festival is to showcase the achievements of artists, writers, actors, filmmakers and performers with disabilities, and to make their art available to others with disabilities and to the general community,” says David Weiss, HWS Professor of English, editor of Seneca Review and coordinator of the Festival. “We want to celebrate the work and lives of these artists, and we want to give them an opportunity, through workshops and classes, to share their craft and skills and vision. We hope to inspire critical conversation about issues of inclusion, normalcy, creativity and art.”
The Festival got its start when the Seneca Review, HWS’s nationally distributed literary magazine, made the decision to devote a special issue to the subject of the “Lyric Body,” which, as Weiss says, “is essentially to do with writers with disability and writers of difference reflecting on their lives and the lives of those that matter to them.”
“We got the idea of holding a symposium on campus from some writers in the issue,” he says. “Before long, we conceived of an event that would be not just about disability but by artists with disability with the goal of encouraging the most inclusive audience we could reach. To achieve this, we have been partnering with the Collaborative of the Finger Lakes, a regional association of 11 not-for-profit ARCs-human service agencies serving 9,000 individuals challenged with developmental disabilities and their families in 13 central upstate New York counties.”
To kick off the month of activities, Stephen Kuusisto ’78 and Ralph Savarese, co-editors of the special Seneca Review issue, and Susanne Antonetta, whose essay “Dis” appears in the issue, will participate in a symposium, moderated by Weiss, focused on writing and disability. The symposium, “Autism, Blindness, Neurodiversity and the Lyric Body,” will be held on Thursday, April 8 at 4:30 p.m. in the Sanford Room in the Warren Hunting Smith Library. The following afternoon, Kuusisto, Savarese and Antonetta will conduct a writing workshop open to all interested teachers, students and writers from 1 to 3 p.m. in the in the Fisher Center.
Throughout the month, an art exhibit, “No Destinations Beforehand: Three Artists with Autism,” will be on display in the Davis Gallery at Houghton House, bringing together three widely recognized and influential disabled artists, Larry Bissonnette, Jonathan Lerman and Jessica Park. Approaching their work with a distinct vision and voice, Bissonnette, Lerman and Park present to the non-disabled world a stunning example of creative expression and visual power.
The exhibit will open on Friday, April 9, with a reception at 7 p.m. Prior to the opening, Doug Biklen, Dean of Education at Syracuse University, will show his film about Bissonnette, “My Classic Life as an Artist” and talk about Larry and his art at 6:30 p.m.
On Wednesday, April 14, AXIS Dance, an integrated dance company of dancers with and without disabilites, will perform at Winn Seeley Gymnasium as part of a residency. Organized by Dance Department Professor Cynthia Williams, the AXIS Dance Company residency, supported by numerous grants, is the culmination of three years of planning and represents “an amazing opportunity for students, faculty, and the Geneva community to experience art that shatters traditional assumptions about dance,” says Williams. For more information about AXIS, click here.
On Thursday, April 15, Lennard Davis, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of “Enforcing Normalcy,” will give a talk titled “Acting Disabled: The Problem of Representing Disability in Film and Television” at 7:15 p.m. in the Sanford Room. Davis is also Professor of Disability and Human Development in the School of Applied Health Sciences of the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as Professor of Medical Education in the College of Medicine. He is director of Project Biocultures, a think-tank devoted to issues around the intersection of culture, medicine, disability, biotechnology, and the biosphere.
A series of films produced by Sprout, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing innovative programming to people with developmental disabilities, will be screened on Thursday, April 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Vandervort Room. Anthony DiSalvo of Sprout Films will be on hand to introduce the films and will also host a two film workshops, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 to 2:30 p.m., on Friday.
Rounding out the festival, a celebration of local artists with disability, including an art show, screenings of sprout films, a video montage of the festival, refreshments and final remarks, will be held on Friday, April 23 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the Vandervort Room.
Finally, on Friday, April 30, Project Eye-to-Eye will host a live art event, featuring presentations from Project Eye-to-Eye students and a graduation ceremony, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Katherine D. Elliott Studio Arts Center.