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Accessible Expressions Ohio: Two Decades of Inclusive Creativity on Tour

It’s milestone time for our friends at VSA Ohio. Last year on the national level, VSA celebrated its 40th anniversary, and 2016 marks VSA Ohio’s 30th anniversary of 501c3 status. To keep the anniversaries rolling, one of VSA’s premier programs, Accessible Expressions Ohio (AEO), a statewide touring exhibition that presents visual works by artists with disabilities of all ages, celebrates its 20th exhibition this summer.

“[AEO] can really change perceptions about what abilities are,” VSA Ohio’s executive director, Erin Hoppe said of the touring exhibition. AEO continues to inspire others, gain impact, and ignite similar opportunities across the state.  

Bittersweet Farms in Middletown, Ohio, is an organization that serves adolescents and adults with autism in an agricultural setting. It had just started an art program when their director Stephanie Steir discovered AEO. The group turned a department store into an arts center in downtown Middletown, and AEO was the first exhibition to kick off their new space on May 6 , 2016. Possibly the best snowball effect ever, VSA Ohio and Bittersweet Farms continue their new partnership within the Arts & Autism Initiative and the Arts & Autism Conference.   

Another unexpected outcome of AEO occurred when a member of the Cerebral Palsy Parent Group of Columbus happened upon the exhibition. Inspired by the display, a day full of arts experiences for children and their parents was created. The Cerebral Palsy Parent Group of Columbus held their first Family Arts Celebration on June 5 at the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI) with part of the AEO exhibition on display.

Along with happy surprises in the form of partnerships, AEO continues to serve as a professional development opportunity for artists, as well as a way for the public to learn and engage with art created by people with disabilities.

Artists find value in AEO whether it's through learning how to navigate an exhibition application, seeing  their artwork hung in a gallery, networking with other artists, or building their creative resumes. In addition, AEO adds public value through increasing awareness of VSA Ohio, supporting artists by purchasing artwork, or feeling moved to create themselves. 

 This year’s People’s Choice Winner, chosen by the visitors of the Westerville Community Center, where the entire AEO tour begins, is Concha Castaneda of Newark for her piece E-I-E-I-O. She also won first place in the painting and drawing category. 


Hoppe describes an interaction with Castaneda at the opening. “Concha said to me, ‘I’ve always been a black sheep in my family, but here, I’m just normal. I’m among people who are just like me.’ [AEO] is a way for artists to not only grow their artistic careers, but also meet and engage with other people.”    

The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery has been a proud partner with AEO since 2008. AEO will be on display in the Vern Riffe Center Lobby, directly outside the OAC’s Riffe Gallery, June 6 through July 7, 2016.  Learn more about Accessible Expressions Ohio here.

Already booking sites for next year, your space could be one of the site hosts for the 2017 AEO exhibition. For more information and guidelines, check out the VSA Ohio website here. 

 VSA Ohio is a community that connects inspired artists with their passion, service providers with resources, and all citizens with creative opportunities. By bridging arts and disability, our programs and services constantly evolve to provide inclusive environments and accessible opportunities for people with disabilities to celebrate life through the arts.

The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery showcases the work of Ohio's artists and the collections of the state's museums and galleries. The Riffe Gallery is located in the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, across from the Statehouse on High Street in Downtown Columbus. Like the Riffe Gallery on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Images courtesy of VSA Ohio. Top: 20th Anniversary Logo, Bottom: Concha Castenada, E-I-E-I-O, Accessible Expressions Ohio 2016 People's Choice Winner. 

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