Ysabelle Vautour on Organizing Atlantic Canada’s first Disability Arts Symposium and Cabaret
I am a visually impaired painter based in Fredericton and I knew that throughout Canada many of the other provinces had some sort of festival or event related to artists with disabilities. I found it strange that New Brunswick has the second-highest rate of persons with disabilities in the country, and the city where I live has the most artists per capita, yet there was nothing here. A couple years ago, I pitched a proposal for a disability arts festival to my local artist-run centre’s pitch competition. I felt like my unique challenges wouldn’t be that unique if I got to meet other artists living with disabilities to see if we shared some common obstacles. I wanted a place where we could find each other and connect to have a record of disability art that was created locally.
My pitch was not successful, but luckily the director of the New Brunswick arts board was in attendance. He gave me a call little over a year later, saying he was looking to recruit me for an Atlantic Disability Arts Symposium hosted by Theatre New Brunswick and the JRG Society for the Arts. JRG is a Halifax-based charity that provides grants to artists with disabilities. They noticed they were not getting a lot of applications, so they decided to host a symposium to find more people. They wanted to have a planning committee comprised of artists with lived experience of disability from each of the four Atlantic provinces. And so Paul Power, April Hubbard, Alexis Bulman, and I met over Zoom to figure this out.
We talked about what we wanted to do. I was grateful for having experienced artists on this committee who had been to other disability art events and had established art practices in disability arts. We hosted a three-day online event this past October, allowing for lots of time between each event. Accessibility was one of our top priorities. I think this is the first time I have ever been in a group where that was the case. We had ASL interpretation, live captions, transcripts, audio descriptions, a trigger warning, and a dedicated person to contact if anyone needed someone to talk to.
We decided that our first two panels would be closed. We wanted to create a safe space, where artists felt comfortable sharing. We wanted to have an elevated discussion in plain language about art and accessibility to members of the disabled community.
Our first panel, Strange Avenues, was moderated by the incredible Debbie Patterson of the Sick and Twisted Theatre Company. We wanted a discussion centred around the question, “How do disabled artists establish their careers in ableist spaces?” The participating artists shared stories of how their access needs have led to or informed their art practices and creative decision-making. They also shared the inventive, always creative workarounds they’ve implemented to participate. They identified unique issues they’ve experienced that funders may not be aware of. My favourite part of the conversation was response to the question, “How do you imagine your criptopia?”
The second panel, Where’s the Money, was moderated by the lovely Cyn Rozebloom from Tangled Art + Disability. The goal was to bring the disability arts community together over our shared experiences of navigating funding barriers, finding solutions, and raising awareness of the desire for fairer and more inclusive funding processes. We wanted panellists representing different perspectives within the Disability, Deaf and Mad arts communities who specialize in areas of disability art, activism, organizing, and more.
We decided to make the last panel open to the public. The DAAS planning committee hosted a discussion with the provincial arts funders ArtsNB, ArtsNS, ArtsNL, and Innovation PEI. The goal was to have a conversation about the different grant programs available to artists, access tools or barriers that exist within current funding applications, inclusive practices that are being implemented, and new opportunities that could enhance the careers of artists with disabilities to practice, thrive, and share their work with a wider public.
We also wanted to have a space where we could showcase local artists’ performances. The cabaret was hosted by the charming comedian Josh Mentions. There were thoughtful poems by Anna Quon, a funny music video by Dr. Androbox playing on gender roles, a unique visual arts piece exploring light and sound by Aislinn Thomas, a fabulous drag number by Misshapen, a captivating performance by Paul Power reading Shakespeare, and Vie Jones’ striking video on their reflections as an Indigenous person. I threw some art in there and we also had a beautiful dance performance by Vanessa Furlong and April Hubbard that explored how trusting our disabled bodies can inform our art practices.
I was so happy to see and be a part of this amazing experience. It is my hope that DAAS keeps going for years to come as there are many more artists we want to feature and talk to.
Ysabelle Vautour is an Acadian artist and art teacher.