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‘The Art of Disruption’ Project Overview

August 13, 2023

The Art of Disruption logo
The Art of Disruption: Expressions of Black and Disabled Protest, A DisArt Project

The Art of Disruption’ Preview at ArtPrize

September 14 – October 1, 2023

Heartside Park and Online

301 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503

United States

Black and disability communities represent a disruption to the assumed normativity of whiteness and health. The presence of Black and disabled bodies in public spaces in and of itself is a form of protest within the white, nondisabled structures and systems that dominate public life in the United States.

Chris Smit, Co-Founder, DisArt

‘The Art of Disruption’ is a groundbreaking project that is over three years in the making. The first seeds of the idea were planted years prior in 2015 when curator and art historian, Elizabeth VanArragon, created a local exhibition as part of the DisArt Festival featuring the photography of disability rights photographer Tom Olin called ‘Access is a Civil Right’.

A historical black and white photograph of a disability rights protest.
Image Description: A historical, black and white photograph of a disability rights protest taken by Tom Olin. The crowd marches straight towards the viewer, led by three wheelchair users and a person with a service dog. The wheelchair user on the left holds up a large sign that reads “We shall overcome.” The wheelchair user to their right has a sign that reads “Access Is A Civil Right” draped across their legs. The crowd behind them is vast and diverse.

‘Access is a Civil Right’ included 30 black and white photos documenting the marches and demonstrations that led to the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Unsurprisingly, most visitors were not familiar with the disability rights movement of the 80s. But what they did comment on, however, was how reminiscent the photographs were of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s.

A historical black and white civil rights protest photograph featuring black men with signs that read “I am a man” and “union justice now!”.
Image Description: A historical black and white photograph of a civil rights protest. A group of black men in 1960s era clothes form a line at the front, with signs either pinned to their shirts or in their hands that read “I am a man”, with “am” underlined, or “union justice now!”. There is a crowd behind them also holding signs with different slogans.

To date there are 28 Black and Disabled artists participating in the creation of the full ‘Art of Disruption’ exhibition which will premier in New York City over the course of a year beginning late 2024. Thereafter, DisArt plans to create a traveling exhibition that will return to Grand Rapids, Michigan in addition to traveling to other cities across the county.

Image Description: Works of art by antoine williams, Tasha Dougé, and Alex Dolores Salerno

‘The Art of Disruption’ features Black and Disabled artists whose contemporary ways of making unveil the clear and powerful connection between race and disability, highlighting legacies of activism and a call for radical change. Their innovative works boldly demonstrate the profound interplay of race and disability, shedding light on parallel histories of activism and advocating for transformative change.

At the heart of ‘The Art of Disruption’ lies a deep appreciation for four essential themes: Language Expansion, Self-Preservation, Collaboration, and Continuous Becoming. These themes serve as catalysts for reshaping our understanding of interpersonal relationships, fostering an environment of growth that honors the significance of adopting mindful processes and intentional care for both individuals and communities.

“The ‘Art of Disruption’ is not merely an exhibition. It is a testament to the power of art to challenge conventions, ignite conversations, and inspire societal change. We invite community members to join us in celebrating this transformative journey as we uncover new perspectives, forge connections, and amplify the work and unique perspectives of Black and Disabled artists.” 

Le’Andra LeSeur, Creative Director, DisArt and juried grand prize winner of ArtPrize in 2018

DisArt is fortunate that there have been early adopters and donors who have generously supported the research and development phase of the project. Most notably are the Ford Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation who first supported the project in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Since then the ‘Art of Disruption’ has received project support from Steelcase and, most recently, the National Endowment for the Arts. Financial and in-kind support of the Preview at ArtPrize has been given by ArtPrize, Conduit Studio, Dégagé Ministries, FASTSIGNS, Frey Foundation, SideCar Studios, SiTE:LAB, University of Michigan Spanish Language Internship Program (SLIP), and Steelcase Inc.

While the full exhibition will not be showcased until 2024, 10 of the 28 ‘Art of Disruption’ artists will activate Heartside Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan during ArtPrize, an international art festival. A series of public events will take place during ArtPrize between September 14–October 1, where 3 of the artists will collaborate closely with local community members in and around the park.

Image Description: Heartside Park at 301 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan

The most up to date information will also be available on our Instagram page (@DisArt_Now)

Excited about the ‘Art of Disruption’ and want to support its evolution and growth?

Your donation of any amount is greatly appreciated and will allow us to continue to use the power of art to challenge conventions, ignite conversations, and inspire societal change.

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