Evanston art exhibit aims to change public perception of those living with disabilities

Mercy Yang, Reporter

For Reveca Torres, using a wheelchair is not as much of a burden as people may think. Instead, Torres considers the wheelchair a tool for independence.

“A lot of people think a wheelchair is limiting, and I wanted people to know that the wheelchair is freedom,” Torres said. “It allows me to be independent and gives me a normal life, to work and to travel.”

Torres is one of six artists featured in “The Art of Normal,” an exhibit including photography, poetry and music aimed at sharing personal expressions of community members with disabilities. The free exhibit will open with a reception Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Civic Center’s Fleetwood-Jourdain Art Guild Gallery and will remain open for the remainder of the year.

Torres, whose art includes photographs of herself at different locations using her wheelchair, is the executive director of Backbones, an organization that helps people with spinal cord injuries and their families connect with their community. Torres said she and the other artists reflected on what they wanted the public to understand about their disabilities.

Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Patrick Hughes (Kellogg ‘11) proposed the idea of the exhibit to his friends, who later became the six artists featured in the exhibit. Hughes is the CEO and founder of Inclusion Solutions, an Evanston company dedicated to equipping businesses with the tools to ensure inclusion of customers with disabilities.

“The 80 percent of the community who doesn’t have a disability doesn’t necessarily know how to connect and talk to the 20 percent,” Hughes said. “By doing the art exhibit, we’ll be having a conversation in a different way.”

Jay DeWitt, a producer of the exhibit and longtime friend of Hughes, said he felt fortunate to learn how the featured artists process the world and how they think the world processes them.

“The value is the perspective you gain by seeing the world through other people’s eyes,” he said.

Communication senior Jen Yamin, one of the featured artists, said the exhibit reminded her to keep an open mind about people with disabilities rather than rely on widespread stereotypes. Understanding these artists’ perspectives helps deconstruct the stereotypes of people with disabilities, Yamin said.

“When people walk through the pieces, they’ll have a much better understanding on what it’s like to have any of these challenges,” said Jennifer Lasik, the city’s cultural arts coordinator. “The exhibition is very good at showing our very own sensitivities and insensitivities.”

Other featured artists include Medill prof. Eric Ferkenhoff and recent graduate Tommy Carroll (Medill ‘15), a performing percussionist and electronic composer.

In addition to artistically depicting the life experiences of community members with disabilities, “The Art of Normal” encourages businesses to view the disability community as a customer base, not a compliance under the ADA, Hughes said.

Hughes invites business students and professors to visit the exhibit to gain a new understanding of “normal” and use their talents to transform businesses to help include people with disabilities as customers.

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