Blog: Chicago Visit Day 2

Blog by Ruth Gould, CEO, DaDaFest

Chicago 18/5/13

Bodies of Work (BOW) theme: Disability Arts, Culture and Practice

“Day two: just recapping whilst I have breakfast – ordering Monkey Pancakes with almonds and whipped cream!

I was invited to breakfast with some of the key players in the festival…walked through Chicago from 9am to find supermarket to buy some brunchy items.  Loved the peanut butter and jelly choices!

We met on a sunroof in a 50 storey apartment block. Petra Kuppas was there  – she has worked with us in Liverpool in 2002 and 2006… so good to hear how she is working, so must get her back.

I also met with Christine Bruno and the woman of the hour herself, Carrie Sandahl.  She was dressed smartly as she had found out she was being interviewed for ABC TV.  It is only the second BOW, the first one was in 2006, so will be interested to know how we can link more for future work and why there was the huge gap.

Met the most incredible array of people, Leslie, Simi, Leit, Jim, etc…too many to remember. I totally indulged myself on all the high calorie American junk food that I could – well I am here to experience everything possible in my 4 short days.

Next Simmy, (a film-maker and activist), Christine and I went to see the arts exhibition that has been curated by Riva Lehrer. It was about people’s experiences of embodied disability. Some interesting work, but it left me so aware of the political differences in how we curate work in the UK based on the Social model way of working i.e, disabled by society. This exhibition had a mix of work from disabled and non disabled people, showing the carers experiences too. Most of the work was about the lived experience, showing suffering and changes in the body and how the issues of living with impairment affects and impacts.  I can’t say I liked it, some pieces were very beautiful, but I felt their placing as a group of work has missed a point. The gallery information person went on to tell me in words to that effect, that it was really right that we understand the suffering of the people with disabilities.  The gallery venue was set up to promote women’s work and the work of the disadvantaged in American society and was quite far out of the city centre in a run down area so I was saddened it was not more mainstreamed, but glad that outside areas could benefit from BOW.  Talking with Riva later I got to hear about how the main gallery curator really censored some of her creativity and her final choices we not really what she set out to achieve. Maybe she should have pulled out and made a point that way, that the art from the perspective of disability should lie with disabled people and not be compromised by non disabled intentions.

Next, we went onto the Access Living Centre (it is huge and art is all over the place) for a reading by award winning author Susan Nussbaum…she has written a book set in a residential institution for young disabled people. It took at least 100 drafts to complete, but it is ground breaking as it is the voice of the young people from a disabled persons experience of said institutional life.  I was surprised to learn that the inclusive education rights have not extended right across the Sates and it is a lottery re: education depending upon where you live. I bought the book, got Susan to sign it and will pass onto to Sam, our Young Peoples Arts Manager.

At 6pm I attended a wonderfully curated dance show…it was so clever and moved me on many levels.  I have made lots of new contacts, but delighted to have met Lisa Bufano – we tried to bring her to DaDaFest in 2009…her work with prosthetic  limbs works well, but is really slow and deliberate. The impactful work of Kris Lanzo came to mind.

I love being around people who have the disability experience in common – it does break through the usual cultural barriers we have between different countries and creates an amazing sense of belonging.  One thing I am delighted about is the amount of people who have heard of DaDaFest.  I have had so many people coming up to me, including a state of Illinois Arts Officer who is interested in linking us up nationally through their ADA (Americans with Disabilities) programme! Wow!

I went straight off to bed: the six hour time difference is having an effect…in bed by 10 pm (4am GMT).  Exhausted but ever so happy.”

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