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Arts + Accessibility: Spotlight on Andrew Reach

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. Second in our series of spotlights is Cleveland-based artist, Andrew Reach.

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Andrew Reach first became familiar with accessibility as an architect designing buildings across the country. His second encounter follows multiple surgeries for Scheuermann's Kyphosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine. A debilitating condition does not bode well for a grueling career path in architecture, with great authenticity, Andrew has channeled his pain into intricately beautiful works of art using technology as a welcome medium. 

What began with greeting cards has grown to work in private and corporate collections, including the permanent collection of the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami. In this month's ADA Spotlight, Andrew spoke to us about his path to healing, his inspirations, and his thoughts on the future of accessibility. His unique insight is at once reflective and future-facing, and it is an honor to share his story. 

Ohio Arts Council: You’ve stated previously that you have had an appreciation for art since a young age. How was that appreciation fostered during your childhood? 
Andrew Reach: As a young boy, I first began to understand what art was with a painting of a fish that was hanging in my house. I was mesmerized by it. I loved the colors and the swirls of paint. Bruce Baumwoll, my life partner of over 34 years, filled my room with art to lift my spirits after surgery, and what he put directly in front of me was that fish painting. This got me thinking about art again as memories of my childhood love of art flooded back in. 

OAC: Following your second surgery in 2004, how did your creative process change?
AR: Even though I’ve always loved art, I also had other creative passions: graphic design and architecture. For me, I think the creative process of architecture is different from a visual artist in that the architect uses both sides of the brain in a different way than the visual two dimensional artist, being that there is more analytical and spatial awareness.

When I began creating art on the computer for the first time, I realized I was free to explore a part of myself that had no constraints like architecture does. It’s kind of like being able to throw out all the rules and this opened up a whole new universe I didn’t know existed in me.
OAC: You are an accomplished architect – studying at the Pratt Institute then working on major projects in Los Angeles and Miami throughout your career. Do those experiences play a role in the pieces you create now?
AR: Very much so it has. Much of my recent works are very geometric, often with an underlying structure. In these works, I feel that I’m tapping back into parts of my brain that I used as an architect.

In addition to my recent two-dimensional works, thanks to receiving an ADAP (Artists With Disabilities Access Program) grant from OAC, I was able to explore sculpture for the first time. With funds from the grant I created some three dimensional works utilizing 3d printing.  These works are called “Model Citizens” that have personalities, but they also have an architectural quality to them as well.  

OAC: What, or who, inspires you to create?
AR: Many people inspire me. Bruce inspires me as he has overcome much from being a child in the 1950’s with being on the autism spectrum and with dyslexia and the learning difficulties he had, which in those days was just assumed as a lack of intelligence.

Having lived in Cleveland now for 8 years, I am amazed by the talent and vibrancy of the arts here in Cleveland. There are so many people from so many backgrounds creating art and this inspires me. 

OAC: When you first began creating greeting cards, did you ever imagine it would lead to exhibitions (across the county no less!) of limited-edition prints and canvases?
AR: No. After my second surgery when pain and depression was taking hold of me, Bruce encouraged me to try to use some of the limited time I could sit at the computer to make greeting cards utilizing images from his collection of vintage advertisements. This is how I first began learning Photoshop.

At this stage, it never occurred to me this would lead to me becoming an artist. If you told me when I first started with the cards that someday not only would you be an artist but that also your art would be exhibited in the Frost Art Museum, a building I was project architect on, I would have said no way. 

OAC: On your website, you talk about how creating art has assisted you with managing pain. Can you expand on that?
AR: When I first began making the cards you asked me about, the idea Bruce had was that the exercise of making the cards could give me an outlet for my creativity that would not be beyond my physical abilities. I would take different images and graphics from the vintage advertisements and put them together and create new images from them. But as I became more comfortable with Photoshop, something happened I can’t explain. I started making art. It was like an explosion of creativity. At first I didn’t realize it but what I was doing was art therapy.

The pain is there, but it pushes it to the background and I sometimes have brief moments where it almost disappears and those moments are golden. And there is also a psychological component to making art that is very therapeutic when coping with pain. When completing an artwork I feel a sense of accomplishment which is an empowering feeling and gives me a sense that I can control my destiny instead of the pain controlling me.
OAC: When you think of, “arts and accessibility,” what comes to mind?
AR: Due to the ADA, as an architect, I understood the importance of accessibility in buildings. Sometimes accessibility is handled well and incorporated seamlessly into the design of a building, but sometimes you’ll see a building that looks like accessibility was designed as an afterthought, stuck on because the law requires it.

This lack of sensitivity has always bothered me. So when I think of arts and accessibility, providing opportunities to the disabled to have access for opportunities to create in all the art disciplines should someday be seamless where the disabled can contribute and thrive and where all barriers dissolve away. 

To learn more about Andrew and view his work, visit andrewreach.com.



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