The problem is not that I cannot walk. The problem is that I find myself living in a society which is premised in the most fundamental ways upon the assumption that everyone, or everyone that matters, does walk, in that quaint if rather laborious, biped sort of way.
— Catherine Frazee

Premise / Shift

Elizabeth Sweeney, January 2019

In 2019 I was awarded a two-year Chalmers Art Fellowship to radically reconsider how I make visual art, and shift the premise of who it is made for. This website is my documentation of this project.

I am a visual artist, arts researcher, educator and curator. I am also a neurodivergent queer of white Acadian settler decent who grew up in Yarmouth Nova Scotia.  My focus for the last 12 years has been centred in arts accessibility, Deaf and disability arts and contemporary curatorial practice. I was the first Accessibility Educator at the National Gallery of Canada (2006-2009), where I developed innovative and inclusive programming for visitors with disabilities. I have trained Gallery staff across Canada and I have written extensively on the topic of art criticism, activist museum praxis and contemporary disability arts. In 2012 I completed an MA in Critical Disability Studies from York University, where I focused on disability art and contemporary curatorial practice.

During this time, my own visual arts practice was very quiet. In large part because the work I knew how to make didn’t feel relevant anymore. It didn’t speak to my own experiences of disability, and I didn’t fully know how to make work, that was premised, in the most fundamental way, on the assumption that a much broader range of audeince mattered.

What if artists, premised their artistic practice on the assumption that their audience, or the audience that mattered, were Deaf, Disabled or Mad? How would we approach our work then?

Throughout 2019 and 2020 I will be researching, exploring, experimenting with and learning about the ways that artists, and specifically Deaf artists and artists with disabilities integrate collaborative design, accessibility and multi-sensory techniques into their artistic practice, while also creating dynamic and interesting works of art that explore lived experiences. To be clear, I am not interested in researching how a finished work, like a video, could be made accessible through closed captioning and audio description – this work has been well documented and continues to evolve. Instead, I want to learn about the many different ways visual and media artists, can and do, alter, change and transform their artistic practice, by shifting the premise of who their audience is. This website will document my process of exploration - an initial phase of research as well as a series of in-depth studio visits with artists, arts researchers, creative thinkers and makers whose work provides a multitude of experiential entry points. Some artists integrate inclusive practice intentionally while others by the very nature of the types of work they make. I also hope to discover new artists and visual arts practices throughout this process. I want to discover new ways to integrate interaction, participation, tactility, verbal and nonverbal discourse, and consider a vast array of perceptions, through an aesthetic lens. At the core I will be rooted in pushing the boundaries of how visual arts can be produced, by questioning who it is created for, and expanding my practice beyond what I know or expect; This transformation will be grounded in a Deaf and disability arts discourse, activism and a commitment to access.

This project is made possible through the generous support of Ontario Arts Council through the Chalmers Family Fund.

This project is made possible through the generous support of Ontario Arts Council through the Chalmers Family Fund.