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Arts + Accessibility: Spotlight on VSA Ohio

by Hannah Brokenshire and Molly Rutledge

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Ohio Arts Council is exploring how accessible arts opportunities enrich the lives of Ohioans of all abilities. First in our series of spotlights is VSA Ohio Executive Director Erin Hoppe.

VSA Ohio is a state non-profit that bridges art and disability through various services across the state. Their programs and resources manage to be both far-reaching and inclusive, no easy feat for such a diverse set of offerings from artist residencies in schools to the Arts & Autism in Ohio Initiative, professional development resources and more. VSA Ohio promotes the enrichment of art for all abilities. Executive Director Erin Hoppe took some time to talk to us about accessibility and the arts. 


Ohio Arts Council: When we say "arts" and "accessibility," what does that mean to you? 

VSA Ohio
: We serve arts across the spectrum as much as possible, whether it be visual art, performing art, literary art, or film with our Reelabilities film festival

The ideal would be having no barriers to participation. From audio guides at a museum for people with visual impairments, to sensory-friendly options at a theatre for individuals on the autism spectrum, whatever the "accommodation" needs to be, access is the ability to participate in any art that you want without barriers.

"The arts are a unifying force they are what connects us as individuals and allow for expression and putting them [arts and accessibility] together, that just makes sense," Erin Hoppe, VSA Ohio Executive Director.
OAC: How is VSA Ohio working to change perceptions about ability through creative opportunities?

VSA
: We don't have to have these preconceived perceptions about "can" and "can't." We're working toward the ideal that we just see a person. [People with disabilities] are still patrons like everybody else. If anybody in the right setting is given the opportunity, then they can thrive.

We're talking about disability here, but the same could be said of low-income or rural, underserved areas—give people the tools and opportunities to follow whatever their dreams and passions may be and who knows where that could lead. 

OAC: So if people want to find inclusive arts opportunities, where should they look?

VSA
: Our ideal would be that there isn't a need for something separate. What I would want is an inclusive world, but until we reach that point of universal design we share every opportunity that we hear about with our listservs, or on the website, in blog posts, or the newsletter.

Through the Arts in Autism initiative, we've worked with the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI). They have an online database of accessible opportunities, we are now building a new resource, from sensory-friendly theatre performances to summer camps for kids, and encouraging people to post opportunities there.

Hopefully through the work that VSA Ohio, the Ohio Arts Council, and others are doing, more and more cultural organizations will identify opportunities. There is a passion and interest in reaching these audiences and now we need to make that visible.
OAC: The Accessible Expressions Ohio 2015 exhibition is on display outside the OAC's Riffe Gallery in the lobby of the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts until the end of June. How did Accessible Expressions start and how has it evolved over the years?

VSA
: It's the 19th annual tour and we put out a statewide call for art every year. We've always aimed to be inclusive, that means artists of all ages and disabilities, from any corner of Ohio are invited to apply. All of our artists come at different points in their creative careers. Someone might be an experienced artist adding to their portfolio, or maybe this is their first time exhibiting art anywhere. Success can be different for different people and it has evolved over the years. 

OAC: The exhibition travels to multiple sites throughout the entire year. Why do you present it this way; why not keep it in one place?

VSA
: We want it to be in settings where people look at the art, and then when you read about it a little more you realize, "Oh, this amazing piece of art was made by an artist who is quadriplegic and creates digital art with his chin." People are surprised and this allows us to reach different audiences and by traveling to areas that people go in-and-out of, we're able to spread the message across the state. 

Accessible Expressions 2015 will be in the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts’ lobby through the month of June before traveling to the following sites:

  • July: City Center Gallery, Columbus
  • August-October: Sandusky Artisans, Sandusky
  • August-September: Scioto Ridge United Methodist Church, Dublin
  • September-November: Ohio History Connection, Columbus
  • October-December: Beck Center, Lakewood
  • November-December: FCBDD West Central School, Columbus
For more information on VSA Ohio, visit their website, check out the blog, and sign up for e-voice to receive event alerts.



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