City Centre Mirror
For the 10th straight year, the Abilities Arts Festival is shining a light on the artistic and cultural contributions of artists with disabilities.
The festival highlights some of the best and brightest among those with disabilities in the film, photography and other artistic fields.
Abilities Arts Festival photography and board member Steve Kean noted the festival has grown in leaps and bounds since it was first conceived in 2003.
“It’s grown from a little one-week festival with one major event to something that goes on for almost a month,” he said. “We have professional development and a record number of talented artists.”
As a photographer with spina bifida, Kean said the festival is crucial not only in terms of giving participating artists exposure, but also in terms of helping them forge successful careers.
Even though he has been plying his trade for nearly two decades, Kean noted all artists have moments of self-doubt.
“The Abilities Arts Festival really helped me recognize myself as an artist,” he said. “The self-esteem you get is so valuable.”
Kean, an Annex resident, has run photography master classes for artists with disabilities through the festival, sharing the lessons he has learned throughout his career.
“I have physical barriers in terms of getting close to some subjects or sometimes getting the right perspective on a subject, but you find ways to work around those,” he said.
Some of his work will be shown as part of the Abilities Arts Festival’s Nuit Blanche exhibit, Queen Street Cartography. The exhibit will look at life in the city through the lens of living with a disability and will include photography, music, live performances and more in Queen Street storefronts and on the notably wheelchair-inaccessible Queen streetcar. It will feature pieces from students in Abilities Arts Festival master classes.
“My goal is just that people enjoy the work,” Kean said. “It’s hard to stand out in a group show, and there are some great pieces there.”
Fellow Queen Street Cartography exhibitor Kathy Toth said the festival helps showcase the fact that artists with disabilities should be identified as artists rather than through their disabilities and is happy to see these individuals getting some exposure.
“There seems to be a complete lack of people with disabilities in the arts,” she said.
Toth was diagnosed with a learning disability when she was younger, but has not let that slow her progression as an artist. She has worked as an architecture photographer and now does freelance work for events.
The midtown resident is one of countless artists who deal with invisible disabilities.
“I have a friend with schizophrenia who’s an artist and I had no idea,” she said. “It’s society’s concept of having a disability; we tend to think of physical disabilities.”
The two artists will be among many Abilities Arts Festival participants showcasing their work from 7 p.m. to midnight along Queen Street, with the event’s headquarters at 49 McCaul St. The festival continues until Oct. 11, 2012.
For more information on the Abilities Arts Festival, visit www.abilitiesartsfestival.org