By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Ten years ago, Kathy Coleman and a group of like-minded colleagues looked at the arts situation in Portland and found it lacking in areas that involved people with disabilities. Not only were there hardly any organizations for people with disabilities who wanted to express themselves, but there were few places where disabled people could create art. So Coleman and a group of concerned friends founded the Disability Art and Culture Project with a mission to help people with disabilities express themselves artistically. Over the years, the non-profit group mostly has worked in the area of dance, offering a weekly dance class that encourages participation from anyone with any kind of disability.
“We are integrated and inclusive,” explained Coleman, artistic director of DACP. “We work with any kind of disability, and we include people who don’t have disabilities, as well. But we don’t do therapy or social skills. We train artists.”
Through Coleman’s leadership, DACP has had reading and discussion groups and some visual arts, but its most sustained effort has centered on a dance group called the Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company. Coleman has a Master’s in Social Work with a specialty in Disability Studies as well as a background in dance with the New Dance Company of Stockton, California.
“The Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company is geared for people in the sixth grade and older,” remarked Coleman. “It could be considered a youth company but there are many dancers who don’t leave, so we don’t have an age limit.”
Open calls for the dance company take place at various times during the year. The company conducts a lot of outreach, including an ongoing program at Lynch View Elementary through the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) initiative.
Last year, DACP conducted a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $5,000 to support its dance company. It also received grants from the Oregon Community Foundation, Northwest Health Foundation, Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation, and the Regional Art and Culture Council.
Dance sessions cost $5 to $10 each, based on a sliding scale and take place at Zoomtopia, 810 S.E. Belmont St. The company has prepared five different dance numbers that they will present at their show on April 8.
Every other year, DACP has presented a Disability Pride and Culture Festival to showcase the talents of people with disabilities, but this year the festival will focus on film. Consequently, Oregon’s first-ever Disability Film Festival will be held at Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 N.E. Alberta St., from May 27-29.
The Disability Film Festival will be done in partnership with ReelAbilities, a curated film festival by, for and about people with disabilities. ReelAbilites, based in Cincinnati, created the first festival and now allows festivals around the nation to use films from its curated list.
One of the leaders in the Portland’s Disability Film Festival is DACP board member Cheryl Green. Green, who lives in the King neighborhood, is also a filmmaker, blogger and podcaster with an emphasis on disability culture, identity and activism.
Accessibility is a key issue for Green and the DACP.
“All of the films in the Disability Film Festival will have closed captioning,” said Green. “The venue is wheelchair accessible. Some films will have live audio description. Live audio description involves a person (who) describes the visuals over headphones so that you can hear a description of the film. It’s super popular in the blind community or for people with low vision.”
But accessibility is just one aspect of social justice that that DACP advocates. For Green, Colman and others associated with DACP, the issues are much larger.
“We see disabilities from a humanities perspective,” said Green. “We want to change things so that disabled artists will be shown in films that feature disabled artists, rather than have an actor portray a disabled artist. We want to show disabled artists doing their own work and have leadership in choice in how we are presented in the media and on stage.”
So the Disabilities Film Festival may shake things up a bit.
“We can show real people who are making films and starring and acting in films,” explained Green, “and show a real perception of what our lives are like, instead of the usual Hollywood trope where someone is disabled, then later climbs a mountain. You can see disabled people as a mother or a father, or you might see a person who gets ALS and how that changes his art and how he deals with it. These films can be very powerful.”