H’art artists

H’art School of Smiles launches a forum for artists with disabilities

H’art School of Smiles is launching Kingston’s first forum on the work of professional artists with disabilities. But the non-profit organization’s executive director Katherine Porter said the City needs to do more.

Able Artists is a one-day showcase of artist-talks and performances, featuring over a dozen artists and artist groups.

Porter was hoping to get more financial support to operate the event. Able Artists received a $15,000 project grant from the City of Kingston Art Fund (CKAF) in April 2010. But H’art School was found ineligible for an operations grant to run Able Artists according to the CKAF guidelines.

The CKAF, founded in 2007 with the support of Kingston City Council, consists of funding for project grants and operating grants — the former can amount to up to $20,000 and the latter between $10,000 and $70,000 annually. A parameter in the application guideline specifies, “The applicant organization mandate or mission must focus on artistic endeavour (either creation or presentation) as the primary objective of the organization.”

“There’s this perception that our artists aren’t working towards artists’ endeavours, which I disagree with and have disagreed with and challenged for the last few years and will again this year,” Porter said.

Able Artists will feature Ottawa’s Alan Shain, a comedian with cerebral palsy; Montreal’s Les Production des Pieds des Mains, a ballet company that consists of professional dancers and dancers with physical disabilities; and Judith Snow, whose collection of inclusion-inspired paintings is currently being exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Queen’s alumnus Barb McDougall, a local singer who was born without sight, was recently added to the lineup.

Porter decided to debut the event in Kingston after guest speaking at Toronto’s Creative Spirit Arts Festival last October — a conference dedicated to advancing the creative power of people with disabilities. “We decided we needed to travel this collection of brilliant and talented artists across Canada,” Porter said of the artists she met at the festival.

Porter said the goal of Able Artists is to introduce Kingston to professional artists with disabilities and facilitate local opportunities that currently don’t exist.

“I want Kingston to be able to see these professional artists as incredible artists, that it opens their minds to taking somebody with a disability into the world of being exceptional,” she said, adding that with an operating grant, H’art School could hire someone to work full-time on additional initiatives.

“The [CKAF] I think needs to look at the greater whole,” she said, adding that the Kingston community itself has consistently been very supportive. Porter said the grant restrictions are particularly limiting to amateur artists with disabilities working to be self-sufficient through their craft. “Indirectly, they, [the CKAF], are placing a barrier on our artists, who need to be given the opportunity to perform and present their work,” she said. “You don’t just finish school and become a professional … Because you don’t have ballet schools that are totally geared to people with disabilities, we need to integrate them so they can excel.”

Ted Worth, grants director for the Kingston Arts Council grants department, said the basis of the Operating Grants program is that applicants are arts organizations.

“Many organizations would like to move into the operating grants program because of the amount of money in there. But there’s a number of groups that don’t receive funding and that’s where they, [H’art School], are coming from,” he said. “I can explain to you the program, but that’s not my place to explain to you why we turn down any specific grant.”

Worth said the council reviews the grant program annually and they encourage applicants and participants to voice their feedback. Able Artists will be held on Nov. 22 at Sydenham Street United Church with artist talk sessions from 1 to 4 p.m. and performances starting at 6:30 p.m. Afternoon session asks for a donation and evening performances cost $5.

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