The Artist’s Voice: An Exhibition Featuring Tennessee Artists With Disabilities is on display in the Conte Community Arts Gallery at Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts. The juried exhibition presents more than 50 paintings, prints, sculptures, digital art and documentary film created by 54 Tennessee artists, who each live with a disability. Admission is free for this exhibition, which will continue through Sept. 14.
The artists and their works were selected by a juried panel from more than 400 submissions. The works featured in the exhibition have an expressive force and sense of beauty that transcend any limitations that might be imposed by their makers’ disabilities. The artists’ personal circumstances often inform their art, as well as their chosen media. Some of the works explore an artist’s daily struggles of living with a disability; others convey a positive outlook, rich with vitality and raw energy that is often achieved through the use of bright, bold color. Intertwining themes of strength, resilience, fragility, contentment and endurance can be seen throughout this exhibition. Though each work stands on its own artistic merit, the individual stories of their creators make the art even more engaging and awe inspiring.
“The works in The Artist’s Voice are a testament to the power of art to eliminate barriers as it offers healing, strength, and encouragement to its creators, while giving voice to the varied lives of these resilient artists. The artwork provides a visual language that broadens our own understanding as well, not only of people with disabilities, but also of our connections with each other and the world.” ~~ Anne Henderson, director of education at the Frist Center
The artists in this exhibition are motivated to make art for many reasons. Some use the creative process as a means of coming to terms with their particular situations and the world, while others use art as an escape from it. All of the artists attest to the therapeutic value of art and maintain that creating it assists them in their personal efforts to heal, live, and flourish in the world at large.
An example of this transformative power of creativity is seen in the work by residents of the Clover Bottom Developmental Center. Many of the non-verbal residents, as well as those facing other communication challenges, respond to color, shape and texture. Their intricate sculptures, which are made of wood with polymer clay or brightly colored felt, are testimony to the idea that art offers vision and voice to the silent and misunderstood.
For Lyrica Marquez, an artist with autism who usually relies on her mother’s support and assisted typing to communicate, the act of painting benefits her in the same way sculpture benefits the Clover Bottom residents. “In art, I am free to lose my disability over [to] the ways that the colors and lines flow from a soul’s expression,” writes Marquez in her artist’s statement. “It frees the ‘me’ who has no spoken words, only color and form as my own independent language. My art gives me a home in an otherwise hard-to-fit-in world.”
Last summer, the Frist Center announced a statewide Call for Works to receive entries for this exhibition, open to Tennessee artists ages 18 years and older who have physical, cognitive or mental disabilities (a disability is defined as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity). Submissions were reviewed and chosen by a selection panel that included Donna Glassford, director of the department of cultural enrichment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Carol Mode, Nashville-based artist and Frist Center artist council member; and Mark Scala, chief curator of the Frist Center.
In advance of the exhibition, the Frist Center collaborated with VSA arts of Tennessee and Full Circle Art to provide free workshops across the state for artists. Participants learned how to create professional portfolios, write artists statements and photograph work for submission to juried art exhibitions.
Advisory Committee and Sponsors
An advisory committee assisted the Frist Center in the process of organizing this exhibition. Participants included individual artists and community members with and without disabilities and representatives from the following organizations: Centerstone, Full Circle Art, Pacesetters, Inc., Technology Access Center, Tennessee Arts Commission, Tennessee Disability Coalition, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and VSA arts of Tennessee.
The Artist’s Voice is sponsored by HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals. This project is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. This exhibition was organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Susie Creagh Elder, former educator for outreach at the Frist Center, is the guest curator for the exhibition.
Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features more than 30 interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Gallery admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and younger and to Frist Center members. Frist Center admission is $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and military and $6.50 for college students with ID. Thursday evenings, 5–9 p.m., admission is free for college students with a valid college ID. The Frist Center is open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m.– 9 p.m. and Sundays, 1–5:30 p.m.. Additional information is available by calling 615.244.3340.