Should Artists With Special Needs Get Special Attention?


A new exhibit called Momentum opened at at the the Smithsonian Institution this month. It features works by 15 young artists with disabilities. The painting above is Soul Reader, by Dimelza Broche. She has a genetic disorder that’s resulted in fragile bones, and she’s in a wheelchair. As she describes her painting, a self-portrait, “The circles in the background form a halo-like circle, which represents how important or sacred it should be to look and understand life around us and the people and things we interact with.”

I found her words compelling, especially in terms of how we view people. Because I had a very mixed reaction to the way these artists are presented.

I love that this exhibit showcases artists with disabilities.

I don’t love that this exhibit showcases artists with disabilities.

OK, I’ll explain:

As mom to Max, it inspires me to see the accomplishments of young adults with disabilities. The ones whose work is on display in this show are talented, and deserve recognition. As a description on the Smithsonian site says, “The award validates and support that life-defining choice” of pursing the arts as a career.

And yet, this exhibit links these artists’ talents with their disabilities. It says they are Artists With Disabilities, not just Artists. It calls them out from the artist population as a whole. Part of me wishes they could have been part of a general exhibit of gifted young artists, a mix of ones with and without disabilities.

The very idea of this crashes up against one thing I try so hard to do for my son: Get people to see the person, not the disability.

What are your thoughts?


From my other blog:

What Kind Of Artist Is Your Child?

Getting People To Treat Kids With Disabilities Like Kids First






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  1. by Stimey

    On September 27, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I think this is such an interesting question. I’d be curious to know how the artists feel about being grouped in that way. I’m also a little torn. It would be lovely if exhibits like this were a way to give artists entry to the larger art community to become known in their own right.