Normally, you’re never allowed to touch art, but the sixth annual Artists with Disabilities showcase in Victoria has a whole wall of tactile artwork.
Created by a youth art program with the Victoria Disability Resource Centre, large colourful posters are textured to feature braille words. One says the word “art” while another says “hope.”
“One of the things that makes our show so exciting is that it’s a showcase, so it’s not just one type of medium, one type of artist or one type of ability or disability — it’s everything,” said coordinator Ami Gordon.
There’s both abstract and realistic art, sculptures, a short film and the interactive tactile wall.
Gordon, who has volunteered with the showcase for three years, has also facilitated arts programs with a children’s rehabilitation hospital. She and her son, who has down syndrome, both love art and its therapeutic side effect.
“I’ve seen firsthand the healing power of art. It opens up abilities. When you come to our artshow, you don’t see disabilities, you see abilities. You see gifts,” Gordon said.
This year, of the 18 artists featured, there are eight newcomers. To add more of a sense of each artist’s style, the showcase is featuring multiple works from each person.
Les Chan has hosted the show all six years, ever since he — an artist in his own right — was approached to help. Every year, it draws hundreds of people.
“The art show encompasses as many people as possible and giving them the opportunity to shine. A lot of people with disabilities do art, but a small handful of people get to see it. A few friends and family. But here, they’re exposed to several hundred people,” Chan said.
One such artist is Christopher Wooding. Even though he’s supported the show since he began working at the Victoria Disability Resource Centre more than five years ago, Wooding only started submitting his comics to the show last year.
Wooding, who uses a wheelchair, has been an artist since he was about six years old. He only started showing his work publicly shortly before his comics appeared in the 2017 show. Until then, some of his friends didn’t even know he could draw.
Publicly displaying his work for the first time was “terrifying,” he said with a laugh. “It was very surreal to hear people say how much they like the work, whereas when you’re an artist, you’re your own worst critic.”
Soon he began getting requests for commissioned work, and Wooding hopes to one day publish a book of his comics.
“This show is something I really believe in supporting because I think it’s very important for artists with disabilities to be represented and to be able to get their work out there,” Wooding said at the opening day of the 2018 show. “It’s important for everyone to have the ability to express themselves, but for a person with disabilities, it’s incredibly important because there’s so much more that we’re dealing with in life and we may not have the words or the means of being able to express ourselves. But if we can channel that all into something like lines on a page or paint on a canvas, then we can create some pretty powerful stuff.”
The artshow can be visited at 821 Fort Street. Refreshments are next door in the Victoria Disability Resource Centre, where accessible washrooms are also located. The show-end party will be held on Monday, Dec. 3 at 2 p.m.
The entrance is free, as the showcase is supported by the CRD’s arts development.
“We wanted to make this as inclusive as we can, and that means making it accessible to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds,” Gordon said.
This year, the showcase will give out two peoples’ choice awards worth $100, and invites all guests to vote for their favourite artists.