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ArtPrize: Project shares stories from disability community during pandemic

Posted at 6:56 AM, May 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 08:34:36-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — ArtPrize 2021 will be here before we know it and artists are already hard at work.

Artist Oaklee Thiele is working in collaboration with DisArt on a special project that will be on display in the center of Grand Rapids at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

DisArt is an organization that creates public art events that cultivate and communicate a disability culture, and with Thiele they created the My Dearest Friends Project to show the lived experience of disability during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March 2020, artist and disability activist Oaklee Thiele and DisArt have been collecting stories from the disability community all over the world, then Thiele turns each one into an illustration and shares it on their digital platforms.

“We really began witnessing firsthand the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and DisArt and I were really acutely aware of the fact that disabled lives were being forgotten and devalued. We were losing access to life-sustaining medical care in the name of triage. Oftentimes, our stories were being told from the non disabled perspective rather than the firsthand accounts,” Thiele said.

So far they have received more than 350 stories.

“Things that we've heard again and again is how, basically overnight, workplaces, educational institutions, switch to remote opportunities. And people in the disability community have been asking for that, begging for that type of, you know, specifically that type of accommodation for years. And it's never been granted. So now, as the majority of non-disabled people are asking for it, and it's a necessity, it comes to fruition,” says Vyn.

Now, they’d love your help to make sure these stories no longer get ignored.

“As it goes from a digital platform to the physical space, you know, as an exhibition for our prize, it changes our needs, it changes and it creates opportunities for people to get involved as volunteers. This summer, we'll be having some great opportunities to help with sewing the banners and some other opportunities as well, that we're kind of scheming on right now. But also, we really support any financial support that people can contribute to the project, because digital is relatively free for us, when we take it out of that space and bring it to the whole community in the way that we're planning. It's just going to take more resources,” says Vyn.

ArtPrize will run from Sept. 16 through Oct. 3 this year.

If you’d like to get involved, visit DisArt or submit your story to the My Dearest Friends Project.