In the second episode of the Arts Work Fund Podcast, 2nd Story's Artistic Director Amanda Delheimer joins Esther Grimm and Andy Slater from 3Arts to discuss Chicago's disability culture movement and how organizations can infuse accessibility into their programs and create digital platforms for archiving, promotion, and collaboration.
The Disability Culture Leadership Initiative (DCLI) includes online video conversations and in-person convenings with Deaf and disabled artists in Chicago. The participants are alumni of the 3Arts/Bodies of Work Residency Fellowships, a program that is centered on the creation of new work, professional development, and advocacy for Disability Arts & Culture.
cover photo by Alison Kopit
Amanda Delheimer Hello, my name is Amanda Delheimer I am the artistic director of 2nd Story an arts organization located in Chicago, Illinois. You're listening to one of a series of conversations I am having with recipients of grants from the Arts Work Fund, a funder collaborative that invests in the adaptive capacities of small arts and culture organizations across Chicago. Through these episodes, we are excited to share stories about just a few of the unique and innovative projects that Arts Work Fund grant recipients are embarking upon. We hope that by opening up our experiences, goals and glitches to conversation, peer organizations can benefit from the lessons learned and we can strengthen the sector together. In this episode, I spoke with Esther Grimm and Andy Slater from 3Arts about their program, the Disability Culture Leadership Initiative. I am here talking with Esther Grimm and Andy Slater about a project at 3Arts in Chicago called the Disability Culture Leadership Initiative, or DCLI. You also might hear another voice Sarah Slawnik is here with us who also works with 3Arts. So the DCLI initiative, amplifies and documents the disability arts movement. And one aspect of the DCLI that was recently supported by the Arts Work Fund is designing a dedicated section of the 3Arts website as a resource for the field–as a library of local visibility, aesthetics and culture, and a hub of advocacy centered work. So Esther, I know that 3Arts and Bodies of Work which is housed at UIC's Department of Disability and Human Development, banded together to create the DCLI in 2020. But your work in disability advocacy began many years prior. So tell us how did this all get started for you.
Esther Grimm I feel like we should all put on cardigans and gather around the hearth. And I'm like, you know now "Esther telling the origin story." So it really began with the mission of 3Arts, which I wrote 15 years ago, at a point where we were transforming from the 3Arts Club of Chicago into 3Arts as we know it today–the supporter of artists in Chicago area. It was a very intuitive process, writing that mission and kind of thinking about Artist Awards nationally–who's receiving the awards. A little bit about our history, which was always to support women artists, and combining all of that past into the present and into the mission. So, our mission is to support women artists, artists of color and Deaf and disabled artists in the performing, teaching, and visual arts. And it began with the mission, in a way because you know, there's always that question when you're writing a new mission, designing a new program. You know, if we build it will they come and here we have this mission, and began to fret almost immediately about whether we would actually put our mission into full effect and support disability identified artists. Because we realized very swiftly coming out of the starting gate 15 years ago, that there were very few professional development tracks for disabled artists. That there are so few role models, on the stages in exhibitions, in museums, etc. that a young disabled person might think that there isn't a career path for them in the arts. And so we were kind of swimming against the tide in putting this mission together. And pretty soon, something emerged after we had created a residency fellowship program that supported past 3Arts awardees going to beautiful scenic locations, where they got a full month away, they got a $2,000 stipend and airfare and just a lot of, you know, the gift of time and space to do whatever they wanted to do to experiment to make their work.
We noticed really quickly that a number of disabled artists in our network, were just not applying for those opportunities. And that led us to reach out to some of them. And this was a big learning experience for us where we learned that you know, being in the mountains of California, 45 minutes away from the nearest immediate care facility or hospital is just not going to work for a lot of people that being told by a very prestigious residency program, the date by which you had to arrive was not going to work for a lot of people because what if they weren't? Well, what if their transportation didn't show up? What if they just couldn't do it?
And so This was at a time, Amanda, when we had two people on staff and I was the executive director. But I was also running all the programs. And I was your typical haggard on the brink of burnout. You know, and I, and I didn't know what to do. But I had a kernel of an idea that maybe there was a way to develop a residency program that didn't require travel, that could be flexible, that could be longer term. So if something came up, and artists could have, you know, an extra week or an extra month to continue to make their work. And this was the beginning of the 3Arts residency fellowships that we conduct in partnership with Bodies of Work. So here was this big problem. We've got this statement in our mission, telling the world who we're going to support. And we need to make sure that we're doing justice to that mission, that we're putting that mission to into effect.
I wasn't sure where to turn and then a light bulb went off. And I thought I'm going to call Dr. Carrie Sandahl, as I call her. She calls herself Carrie Sandahl, disabled theater artist, and professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, somebody who had been helping 3Arts sizably increase our accessibility offerings, our accessibility services during our annual awards event. So I called up Carrie. And this is a great example of how one or two people can really start a movement. I called her and I said, Carrie, we've got this problem. I'm not sure what to do about it. But do you think there's anybody I should be talking to, to start a flexible, customized, you know, lengthy, maybe three month long residency program for Deaf and disabled artists locally, that wouldn't involve all that travel or wouldn't put people far away from their medical teams, etc. And there was a little bit of a pause on the phone. And Carrie said, well, we'll do it. And it was just this spectactular–I wanted like fireworks to go off. It was this spectacular moment of really? Can two people just come together and do this. And, and that's how it started.
Amanda Delheimer This idea of okay, let's do this together. Let's be in partnership around this question.
Esther Grimm It moved from the two of us kind of, again, with a wing and a prayer into a program in which we enlisted our first artist, a teacher, a Deaf teaching artist, Robert Schleifer.
Amanda Delheimer So Andy, we just heard Esther talk about where this program began. I understand that you first met all the 3Arts folks at the one of the annual awards programs that Esther actually just mentioned, could you tell us about that moment.
Andy Slater So in I believe it was 2015, a friend of mine, Gina Rathell used to work at 3Arts and she had invited me to the annual award ceremony at the MCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. And I said, Okay, I get to go to a party, sweet! I knew that she worked there, I didn't necessarily know a ton about 3Arts at the time. And you know, I'm, I'm disabled, I'm blind, I didn't really have a huge community, if any of any, you know, disabled people around, I get to this, you know, I get to this ceremony, I'm wearing a suit. I'm feeling good. Like, you know, what's going on. And I'm, you know, greeted, I meet Esther, very briefly, and Sarah, and then I'm introduced to Carrie. And immediately she's running off all the you know, the access, the, you know, the accessibility and the access stuff that was offered where, you know, if I needed some help getting somewhere or getting to the bar, or if I want an audio description for the, for the whole party for the whole ceremony, and I was just blown away that these services were offered. And everybody was really nice about it. I was just kind of shocked.
And then Carrie was like, I hear that you're an artist, do you want to be part of this disability culture cabaret at Access Living? It's in about a month and a half or something like that? And I said, Sure, what is that? And she, you know, laid it out that it was this annual cabaret of disabled folks hosted by Access Living and Bodies, Bodies of Work. And I kind of just jumped into it thinking that hey, I'm a musician and a sound artist. I don't do any work about my disability. This could be a really great opportunity for me to just kind of get out of my comfort zone of doing you know, bleep blorp robot music and sound art and stuff and kinda do something new. So I wrote a play, which was the first, first time for everything, and I went and did this thing, totally experimenting, over at Access Living, and I show up at Access Living, and I've never been there. There's just disabled people everywhere, I thought it was wonderful.
In front of this huge crowd of just people. I kind of spilled my guts with his very personal play about being blind, and ableism, and all this other sort of stuff, not knowing at all how people were going to react. And the place just kind of blew up. You know, every everybody was really into it. And I felt like at home for the first time in a really long time. And I just started talking to people afterwards and was like, Who are you? You're an artist, you're a dancer, what is–where did all you people come from? You know, it made an impression, left an impression of like, Hey, there's this community that seems to like, kind of like me, maybe I can hang out. There's like blind people here. There's like Deaf people, people in wheelchairs, you know, you know, I don't know, there's all these all these people and my blind community from when I worked at the Chicago Lighthouse. The people that I worked with the majority of the clients and customers there are blind or visually impaired. And I was so used to the agency trying to corral them into this, put them in one box, all they cared about was getting them jobs, shitty jobs, sub minimum wage, all of this stuff, it was like a blind farm, and every kind of opportunity for art that they would offer would be like, paint or take a photograph, even though you're blind, it's going to end up in some bank lobby somewhere for charity, or some shit like that.
And so being introduced to this group of folks was just for me, like, I should probably really get to know these people, they seem to like to swear and drink like I do. They don't seem to give a fuck about anything, you know, they're all just letting their hair down and talking very frankly, about their disability and society and how, you know, like, non-disabled people don't get them–all on this, you know, I realized that we may not have had the same lived experiences, even like other blind people don't have the same as me. But there were so many common threads of like, oh my god, I can relate to that. And, you know, everybody related to, you know, the content of my play and the stuff I was saying. It was great. And, you know, I got to know, Dr. Sandal very well, and, you know, really kind of like, reached out to her a lot, just to stay in touch with this community and see what I can do and learn more about disability culture, because I didn't, I didn't know anything, you know, I didn't grow up around a lot of disabled people, I just, for a while didn't even want to admit that I was blind, you know, I did a really good job at not using my cane when I should have because of all the stigma and stuff that I used to feel. And sort of like being afraid of what other people thought of me. And then through like meeting Carrie and the 3Arts folks and all those people involved that kind of, you know, got to the point of, oh, I should just not worry about those people who want to pity me or, I don't know, turn me an inspiration porn or you know, not believe me when I say I'm disabled or whatever, like those people just, I don't want them to exist in my life anymore. I just want to be able to forget them. And so that, you know, that kind of put me in a position to feel that way.
Amanda Delheimer Yes, I love that. And I feel like you mentioned that Dr. Carrie Sandahl, asked you in 2018 If you wanted to apply for this residency or do this residency? And what was that like for you?
Andy Slater In 2018, Dr. Sandal was telling me about the 3Arts Bodies of Work fellowship at UIC. And she said, I want you to do this, will you do this? And I said, Yeah, sure, what am I going to do and she's like, You can do whatever you want, you know, gave me the detail so that it wasn't like some rushed residency like a two week thing somewhere out of state. It was actually someplace very local and comfortable and that they're, you know, we're basically following the ideas of crip time where it's like, you know, you might need more time to do this, you're blind you have to rely on rides and transportation and technology and all this other stuff. And then you got to rely on other people knowing what you're asking for when you need accommodations and all this, all this stuff. And she, you know, showed me that she got it and that she wanted me to feel comfortable and create work because I had had the conversation with her about how, you know, up until that point of doing that. The disability culture, cabaret. I hadn't done any art or anything creative about my disability. And now I was ready to go. And I since then had started doing a bunch of sound art and performance based around my cane and all of my other, you know, experimenting and exploring my weird, unique relationship with sound. And I kind of came up with an idea of a project. And then more and more opportunities came and more and more opportunities came. And like, I got to go, I was invited to go to Melbourne, Australia to do some recordings in a haunted jail.
Amanda Delheimer And what?
Andy Slater Oh, yeah, I didn't tell you about that.
Amanda Delheimer No. All of our listeners are so curious, please tell us quickly about the haunted jail.
Andy Slater There is a jail in Castlemaine, Australia, which is outside of Melbourne. That was the most brutal prison in Australia. Like they had gallows there. And they, you know, did some very grim things where they, they would put bags and masks over the prisoners heads as they would take them out of the out of the cells to, you know, to go eat or do whatever, so that they didn't know what the other inmates looked like, what they sounded like, or any of this sort of thing. It was this weird, weird thing. And it was haunted. And so I was invited by a collaborator of mine, Fayen d’Evie, to just go and do recordings of me navigating with my cane and echolocation and running my cane up and down the walls of this prison putting noise in there that it's probably hasn't heard ever before or in a very long time. And they had to lock me in there. I went spend about two days in there, I didn't sleep in there, but I spent, you know, two afternoons in there, they had to lock me in because he's Ghost Hunters kept trying to break in while I was there. So it was just me, blind Andy walking around, learning a lot about the history of this place. And I went and I made about a 12/13 minute sound piece based on these recordings that I was doing. And that was later that was then turned into a video of a dance performance that a deaf dancer did in response to my sound work. And that was filmed in a neighboring old, abandoned, like an insane asylum in Bendigo. She had Anna Seymour is her name and she had two different interpreters, interpreting the sound and then communicating with her while they were filming her and she just made this beautiful dance. And so that became a film. And then there was audio description that was provided that was actually funded by little micro grant from 3Arts for for being part of the accessibility workshop and that sort of thing. So through that, I feel like that thing within itself, you know, really helped me kind of hit my stride in my work. But that that was not my intent.
I originally had this really ambitious project to build this room with a bunch of speakers and do all the sound stuff. But that seemed way too ambitious. One of the things that, you know, it was it was a great perk of this fellowship was that I got to audit Carrie's class to disability cultures class, and I needed that education. So I jumped on it. And I learned so much just like within the first day about just like the history of disability advocacy, and all of these, you know, these these icons, and these, these advocates and artists, and now their connection to like the Americans with Disabilities Act, and then a whole bunch of other just really weird and out there sorts of forms of expression in things that were just, you know, I don't know, I don't know, freaky in the best way possible is avant garde stuff, and I'm just like, what, what's going on, and I learned the history, I learned more and more and more about people with other disabilities and you know, just this education that I had never received in my life before. And then my project immediately changed because like, I don't want to do this like self serving sound installation thing. I want to do something where I can collaborate with other disabled people and kind of make this make this piece of work. That's going to mean more than some temporary installation.
Amanda Delheimer That's lovely. And it seems like that also so that speaks to a number of the things that Esther mentioned in terms of the flexibility of the fellowship, the kind of self directed nature of it. Also part of this kind of larger DCLI project right now of that kind of the hub of disabled artists and the ability for you all to both find each other and work together. But I also love the description that you did of the what that project turned into that it includes like, and then this Deaf artist is using these interpreters, and that it involves this layer that there's this kind of never ending, peeling back the layers of access, right, like how do we think about access from all of these different entry points, as we're creating art and creating these kinds of opportunities?
Andy Slater Yes, like, I like to call it the big game of stoner or telephone for access, or, you know, for disabled people, it's these layers and layers and layers that within themselves as a work of art, you know.
Amanda Delheimer And I know, you've said that the fellowship with 3Arts radicalized you? Would you talk a little bit about that?
Andy Slater Yes. So, like I was saying, I learned about, you know, this, this movement, and you know, the word crip, and like, disability aesthetics and all this stuff. Thankfully, a lot of it is not written or presented academically, you know, a lot of it is in like, you know, plain language and that sort of thing. So I, you know, I tend to tended to understand it more, and, you know, the class discussions were, were always great, I essentially got to the point where it even kind of amplified my whole fuck non-disabled people. Like, if you're not blind, you're wrong, when people would try to, you know, talk to me about my blindness or accused me of faking it and try to start fights and that sort of thing, you know, is like this, this, this part where I just like, I'm too old. You know, I have this, this punk background, you know, weirdo in high school, back in the 90s. And I was always bullied by like, jocks, and that sort of thing. And whatever I came, I came, I have this background of just being bullied not only for my disability, but also being, you know, a weirdo with like blue hair, and that kind of thing, where, you know, it got to the point where I kind of reverted back to the knowledge and stuff that I that I gained from being a kid in that situation and just kind of reversed it. And now, it's just kind of like, I have too much confidence. And I feel really good about myself to let this kind of ableism and, you know, society and stuff like, curate my life, through the through that taking Carrie's class and having the opportunity to even like, present at the Chicago Disability Culture Conference that was that happened during my fellowship, it was, you know, one of the stipulations was that I would present some art at this conference. And I said, Sure, and got in front of a whole bunch of disabled people and presented, you know, another one of my projects I must have done like, are started like three or four things during this fellowship, I was so excited. And so just confident and letting it all go and just experimenting and stuff. So I gave this, you know, this big lecture, and that project has since been published in McSweeney's quarterly, and I'm going to be presenting on it this week at the Siskel Film Center at SAIC, and all this stuff where it's like, more just absurdity, wrapped in disability justice ideas or disability justice ideas wrapped in absurdity can't figure it out.
I've just become such a huge, a huge part of me, and it's natural, and it's just something I didn't know, happened. So it's kind of like you go from being this meek person. With this issue of coping with your disability, you know, the stigma of being seen in public, you know, bumbling around with your cane or bumping into something like Mr. Magoo or something like that, you know, like, being told that you're faking your blindness, because, you know, you look, you look like you know what you're doing, or you look damn fine. And that sort of thing. I kind of went from that sort of, not subdued, but reserved, sort of docile, docile Andy into radical Andy, where I just didn't back down. I didn't sit down for anybody and just kind of made peace with the fact that I'm disabled. I'm a Crip. I'm always going to be I'm permanently disabled, the government says, so. I'm going to accept it. I'm not going to pray for a cure. I'm going to live the best life that I possibly can. And I want the other people in my community to do the same. So I'll go to bat for for anybody and I might well be the loudest person in the room at this point and I'm all for that. You know, screw everybody.
Amanda Delheimer I love the idea of being the loudest person in the room. May we all be the loudest person in the room. Right? Esther, I'm curious, would you say that this program has also radicalized you like, Have you have you moved from docile Esther to radical Esther?
Esther Grimm I don't want to say out loud that I was ever docile, Esther precisely. Move me from, you know, radical Esther to like uber radical Esther, for sure. Because what started out as just sort of a gut desire to pick up the baton from generations past and work toward disability justice, like real breakthrough real, a real revolutionary breakthrough ended up being just as Andy described, you know, an incredible opportunity to engage and learn and think about things like disability aesthetics, and then there was a radicalization, I guess, that happened just in the process of trying to get better and better at doing the work that we do. I think back to like this sort of dream of it and the beginning and we thought like, this would be a program that would be around for maybe a year or two. Did we really think then that it would still be going on today? No way. We thought this is just going to be a one-off kind of thing. And was it really hard to launch this kind of program? Yeah. And I think also about like the process of, you know, when we got to a point where we thought, well, could we expand it? It was scary again. And now the idea is now that DCLI has fully launched, and now we're thinking about what's next? And so there's a there's a kind of radical thinking in that whole process. Because we could be complacent, I could have been complacent, I'll speak for myself, and just sort of said, "No, we've done enough, we don't really have the resources, we can't really continue this," but because of artists, like Andy, and watching all of the incredible work that they're doing in the world, you know, how could you stop? Like, that's the thing, once you sort of engage in a process like that, you want to keep knocking down walls, you want to keep forging ahead, you do not want to stop, you want to test the limits, in fact, and challenge anyone resist that, you that now you've come to a hard stop. So that's a lot. I think in there, you can hear some of the radical Esther emerge. We don't want to be stopped here. So we really want to just do our part, but also kick it up a notch and encourage the whole arts and culture sector to bring disability, disability culture, Deaf culture into the center of their work around equity around just dreaming what the future can be.
Amanda Delheimer I know in our prep conversation, you mentioned Esther, that you completely attribute the DCLI to Andy, would you tell us about that moment?
Esther Grimm I do–so the DCLI–I should say this, too. It encompasses an ongoing, almost living archive of video conversations by all of the the alums in the 3Arts/Bodies of Work fellowship program. So when they finish their their residency program, they move into the DCLI, and they have these incredibly rich conversations. It also encompasses, you know, accessibility resources, and many other things and you can go to 3Arts.org and explore that. But that didn't that didn't come out of nowhere. Part of the DCLI is that we're also convening the alums of the 3Arts/Bodies of Work residency fellowships, and in one convening, which took place in I think, November 2021, we're looking for Sarah nod at me. Yeah. Roughly, 2020, November 2020. We convened about 13 of the alums of the program, and we were they were sharing the work that they're doing sharing the challenges they're facing, sharing all the good stuff, too. And talking about for a lot of them, you know, sort of the isolation that they and many, many artists were feeling in that time in the pandemic. And then we open the conversation to everyone, what should we do more of? What should we do less of? What should we do next, et cetera? And Andy, you said, you know, there's really no place for archiving our work. And you kind of talked about that a little bit. And then we had a long meeting. And we were thinking like, what of all of this could we do? And somehow Andy's word of archive, stuck in my head. And I started to think, but what would it be if it's not archiving of art per se, but like digitally archiving it, digitally finding way to introduce a whole ton of fabulous Chicago area artists to the world at large, if they don't know them already, of recording this point in time–documenting this point in time in, in Chicago's disability culture movement. So the seed came that the idea came straight from Andy. And then we kind of extrapolated out. And we first launched a couple of DCLI videos on our website, about maybe almost a year ago, and realized that in order to get to them, in order to find them, you kind of had to go to 3Arts.org. And, and dig around through a lot of stuff. And that led us to like DCLI 2.0, where we really wanted to and the Arts Work Fund comes into play here, we really wanted to figure out how to get enough resources to create like a big part of our website, focused on disability culture. How do we signal that right? When you get to 3Arts.org, front and center, click here for disability culture. And go to this site. And then furthermore, how do we transcribe all of those video conversations? They're each about 15 minutes long, so that one could go there and read them all. Watch them all, hear them all? See captioning for all of them, et cetera, et cetera, how do you make a fully accessible site? And, and it's all because of this one word. And one idea from Andy Slater, Mr. Slater, Dr. Slater, of this concept of archiving. And then thinking about maybe it's not archive, like we always think about it, where it's, you know, just store stuff away, catalog it, and it goes into a file. But it's archive, like, bring it out in the open front and center. Here's what's happening right now. So it's an evolving platform.
Amanda Delheimer And did you remember that conversation?
Andy Slater Yeah, the conversation was great. It was there was like, what, I don't know, 10/15 people or something in the room, in the Zoom Room, and a lot of us were talking about how we wish we had a physical space that we could just kind of use as a meeting spot, like Riva Lehrer was talking about, it would be cool to just talk about work, and maybe have like a salon or something like that here and there a library and that sort of thing. And, you know, this was like 2020, and none of us knew when we were going to be able to see each other next, and some of us still haven't. So, we're talking about how we all everybody involved in this program, and Bodies of Work fellowship, have all done such incredible work, and everybody has paid such detailed attention to accessibility to make sure that all of you know all of the rest of their disabled community could engage in their work, even if it was, you know, through captions, or image and audio description, or, you know, when we were doing performances and stuff, having, you know, assistance and making sure that every space that everybody worked in, was accessible. And a lot of us were like, if this gallery isn't accessible, if you can't get a wheelchair in there, then you know, we're not going to, we're not going to swing it. We're not we're not exhibiting here, you know, we all we all understood that we needed to make these spaces inviting for all of our, all of our friends to, to experience it. And so talking about that was like the most accessible way for us to share stuff would be digitally. The idea of just presenting like finished pieces, just exclusively stuff that's done, to me, that's just always boring. I love ephemera, and documentation and all these sort of like, you know, just just of how the process of how somebody got to this and how somebody got to that and multiple ways of describing their work like different image descriptions of the same work from different people and that sort of thing. And doing it digitally and having an archive that someone could dig down into, is the way is the way to do it. And so yeah, I think I just like barked out like, "No, we need it archived, it needs to be digital, like, we'll all get together at some point and hang out again, you know, I can't wait for that." But we're talking about having these resources and access to each other's work just as like a you know, as a cohort. And it's like, we could just share this with everybody. I don't know of any other sort of, you know, system like this. Of course, there's, there's a bunch of, you know, disability arts groups that that work together, and, you know, work as a co-op, or as a whole and help each other produce their own work. But this is just something where it's like, it's all Chicago artists and it's centralized here, but at the same time, it's, you know, equally available to the rest of the world.
Amanda Delheimer Another form of access. So Esther, you walked us through some of the many threads that the DCLI kind of the umbrella, that it contains the fellowships, videos, a website, and then you dangle this little like, we're hoping that it's going to, you know, expand in the future. So I'm curious to hear the two of you talk a little bit about, like, where do you hope this will go? One of those earlier phrases you shared Esther was is how to start a movement. So I'm curious to know, like, what are your dreams for what this program might become or might do in the world?
Esther Grimm I have a rich fantasy life, but I would say that the primary dream for all of us is that our colleagues near and far, and the general public would want to go to 3Arts.org. Want to go to the website, get to know some of Chicago's fantastic artists and hire them. So it's a little bit like, when Andy was telling the story of all of the opportunity subsequent to his fellowship, and his performance at Access Living and all of that, we want to see that same stuff happen. It's not that the DCLI is now done, and it's just there as a platform, its value will come when we see a lot of those artists getting jobs, getting gigs, when we see organizations, listening to their words, reading their words, in their conversations, and thinking about how they do business. Who's on the stage? That's the ultimate goal that I'd like to see. There's also like the un-radical Ester moment here, where I just want to say now, it just launched in January, just launched two months ago. So I'm not quite sure what's coming yet. But I'm full of hope, we are all full of hope at 3Arts that we will find new ways to continue this momentum. And it will go beyond sort of the one person at a time kind of momentum into a more global advocacy moment.
Amanda Delheimer Where you also mentioned that you were hoping that the work of the DCLI would inspire organizations to kind of bring disability awareness as a part of like the center of the organization–to center it as a part of equity conversations and that kind of stuff. Now, what does that look like to you?
Esther Grimm Well, I'm hopeful that one of the uses of the DCLI platform will be that arts and culture organization, institution leaders will hear the human cry from the disability culture, community, and will center disabled artists, Deaf artists, disability culture, in their programming, and also in their efforts to move toward socially just world. That's the hope that and I think I said this already, but that will see more and more artists with disabilities emerge in our organizations and institutions. So one of the elements of the DCLI it's not all about the online platform. But is those convenings that Andy and I have both mentioned, where we're bringing together the 3Arts/Bodies of Work residency fellows regularly, and sharing, you know, art, sharing ideas, sharing, emotions, all of that. But also thinking about, you know, what could be the next expansion for DCLI, this isn't going to come from 3Arts' executive director, I may have strong feelings and maybe one or two ideas, but what we really want to do is hear from the artists who are at the center of our mission, who knows where the next idea will come from, or the next in sort of word that transforms into the next moment of the DCLI. This idea that Andy raised of an actual physical space for gathering, you know, right now feels a little bit beyond our means and resources, but it's something we think about. Is there a space? Or is there a serious set of spaces, you know, sort of temporary spaces? Could there be–and this has come up a lot and deselect convenience, could there be opportunities to actually fuel or tangibly support new collaborations between some of these artists? Wouldn't it be interesting to work on collaborations together? In fact, one, choreographer, the group said she wanted to do a collaboration with all of them choreograph a work involving all of those artists. And that was like, number one on my long notes that I took from that meeting, thinking, okay, man, that would be amazing. I would love to see that day come. So we think about these grander ideas of like, could we support such a massive collaboration? And how would we do it? I think, as has been true of the fellowships, and the DCLI, it's probably more an incremental movement toward those big ideas. But, what's the point if you don't have big ideas, it's the vision that's going to grab our hearts at our organization and the hearts of the artists we serve, and will keep us moving toward that future.
Amanda Delheimer Amazing. Andy, how about you? What are your dreams for this program?
Andy Slater I think for the future of the DCLI, and you know, like the the fellowships at UIC and stuff, the more the merrier, the people that have been, that will be I guess, this year, or next year? Yeah, I guess this year's cohort, are people that I know and some that I've collaborated with, and everybody, like Esther had said, is so very eager to collaborate with each other. Because we get it, we know about access, we know about disability. And so it's like, why not collaborate with another disabled person, it's like short, you know, Matt Bodett, helped print and bind a book for me for for, you know, an installation that I did, and I, you know, I helped him figure out some things for a performance that he did. And it's like, we're the professionals on access, and we're artists, so we have a unique and creative way of providing access that, you know, makes things more exciting, you know, for us, and then for other disabled people that come in, you know, in see a performance or an exhibition, where it's like, oh, this is not the clinical way of accessing art. This is not the, you know, the state agency's way of providing you information. There's, there's those barriers aren't there, and that really boring, stale, sort of, you know, half assed bullshit they call accessibility is left at the door, and all the cool stuffs inside. So it's like, reaching, reaching out to our community and wanting them to feel invited to an event space, or a show, blind people getting interested in what visual art or performance or theater might be, like, outside of what they're just listening to other people talking about. And so as, you know, as the cohort grows, there's more and more opportunities to collaborate and do cool, weird stuff and let everybody kind of you know, experiment and go beyond what they have been doing, like, you know, really expand because they have the backing and you know, and the funding and like this nice sort of relaxed situation where, you know, they'll be comfortable and they can do it on their own at their own pace. So, I just hope it just keeps growing and growing. And then while like UIC is the main thing here, but also with with SAIC, and Access Living being involved and kind of maybe offering the artists to work in those spaces. If you could offer a studio space at SAIC something and like the Film Video New Media department or the Sound department or painting or any of that stuff to DCLI fellow then that would that would be amazing. I had access to the recording studio at UIC in the in the art department. But I know, I went to SAIC and I know that, I know the facilities they have and if they could open up to some of some of our artists then even better because I think that school in particular needs a little kick in the pants sometimes about access and what is disability and things. I know that it's getting much better, you know, with people like Sandie Ye involved over there, but I would love to see just the opportunities expand beyond what we've already got, and just take over the damn city.
Amanda Delheimer Amazing. I wanted to just shine a light on something that feels like connection between what the two of you just said, which is that idea of, you know, what would centering disability access look like in any kind of institutional way. And thinking about the note that you made Andy about at the beginning of the pandemic, suddenly everybody's on Zoom, nobody's leaving their houses and disabled folks are experts on that. It feels to me like a way that it might look for disability access or disability, or Deaf and disabled folks to be centered in that idea is like, Oh, this happens. And the first thing we do is we call, you know, are were like, Hey, you all are already experts in this, tell us how we should do this. Right. But that kind of expertise is not necessarily lifted up or centralized in our thinking about the Deaf and disabled community.
Esther Grimm I think what just happened is like, just exactly what happened before, which is that an artist, Mr. Slater, says something like, "Gee, wouldn't it be great if this institution, part of Bodies of Work could provide that studio space for us?" And I don't know about anybody else here. But I wrote that down. That's exactly how the expansion is going to happen. It's going to come from an artist, saying what the artist wants and needs and is dreaming about. And then from our organization, thinking about how could we help make that happen. I also wanted to say that as Andy was talking about all of that, another kind of tangible thing that's happened is that, you know, our 3Arts/Bodies of Work residency fellowship started out with one artist. And now we're up to four fellows a year concept being that there might be built in collaboration with two artists having simultaneous fellowships. And the next thing I want to say too, about expansion is that all of the artists who enter the 3Arts network via this fellowship program, and then on into the DCLI video conversations, are eligible to participate in 3AP, 3Arts Artist Projects, where we support up to the creation of up to 20 new artworks each year, we pay for a third of those projects, we crowdfund for the other two thirds of the projects. We pay for and produce the project video. And our fabulous director of programs is working as a coach and a kind of a business partner behind the scenes. And we've supported 157 projects on that platform with 100% success rate. And so what we're trying to do here is artists may enter as 3Arts/Bodies of Work fellows, that they become part of the full 3Arts network, our professional development programs are available for all of them as well. So it's always like a yes and, this program plus these others, and Andy made me think about that just now because nothing really great gets done if it's just once and done one and done, right? There has to be momentum built over time. And so I think with 3Arts opening its doors for these artists to become part of our full network and our full programming, that's one way to do it. And I also want to say that, Andy, and he mentioned Matt Bodett. They're both on our Artists' Council. And that's a very active group. That advice advises us across all programs and even, you know, a little bit regarding our mission. So, what we're trying to always think about is okay, now we know you, we love you, you're part of the 3Arts family. What can we do now for you? It's not like you finished this thing. And we don't know you anymore. You've already gotten the check. It's like, okay, now what next?
Amanda Delheimer Yeah, it also seems very driven by that kind of "nothing about us without us," right or the "for us by us" kind of approaches. Collaboration.
Esther Grimm Yeah, exactly.
Amanda Delheimer Wonderful. Well, thank you both so much for being in conversation with me today. It was lovely to hear all of your thoughts and ideas and successes and questions and dreams. So thank you so much for your time.
Andy Slater Thank you.
Esther Grimm Thank you, Amanda. Thank you, Andy.
Andy Slater The Zoom Room.
Amanda Delheimer These interviews were produced by 2nd Story, edited by Max Spitz with Original Music by Mariana Green. They are supported by the Polk Brothers Foundation along with Marcia Festen from Arts Work Fund and Jon Satrom from studiothread. 2nd Story, 3Arts, and the Arts Work Fund are all located on the traditional homelands of the Council of the Three Fires. For more information about the organization's featured in this interview, go to 2ndstory.com and 3Arts.org. To learn more about the Arts Work Fund and to continue the conversation, we encourage you to join the Arts Work Fund Listserv, AWF Connect, which can be found along with more grantee stories at ArtsWork.fund. Thank you for listening!More Sharing