Venture outside of the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia, and art connoisseurs will be overjoyed to find Art Ability's captivating and exhilarating exhibit. Established to cultivate a positive journey of healing for patients with disabilities at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, part of Main Line Health, Art Ability is a program that provides the opportunity for patients to explore their creative minds and showcase the final product on display.
Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital's Art Ability has been celebrating artists with disabilities and contributing to the City of Brotherly Love's rich art scene for 21 years. With a dedicated team of staff and volunteers to organize and prep the program's annual exhibit and art sale, Art Ability is one of the largest and longest-running events of its kind. Thanks to local, national, and international artists who have contributed roughly 400 artworks including a wide variety of art forms such as sculptures, paintings and photography. Though the 12-week exhibit will only be on display until January 29, visitors can explore Art Ability's recently launched online gallery, making it fully accessible for art enthusiasts to view, share and purchase the art with the click of a button.
True to form, this year’s exhibit greatly displays a wide array of rising talents and new outlooks from around the globe. To get a behind-the-scenes look at the event and program as a whole, we spoke to program coordinator Cristine Largoza, and art curator Sherman Fleming, about what Art Ability aims to provide for patients of Bryn Mawr Rehab, long-term patient and program goals, and how to purchase the art.
Downtown Pittsburg Bridge, Siddhartha Sukla, paper collage ($1,750). art-ability.org
How does this program benefit both the artists and the Main Line community? CRISTINE LARGOZA: Art Ability is a year-round showcase and celebration of artists with cognitive, physical, hearing, and/or visual disabilities. The annual exhibit creates a marketplace for artists with disabilities, showcasing the incredible talent of our artists. Having the artwork on display and available for sale ensures there is a venue for the public to recognize our artists' phenomenal work. Art Ability forces us to look beyond an artists' disability and allows us to focus on the artwork instead. Many of our artists feel they cannot participate in mainstream art shows or face challenges and adequate resources to sell their works on their own.
What is the process like? CL: Art Ability has an international, juried art show. Artists are invited each spring to submit their works through a commonly known online art application system, callforentry.org. In 2016, we received over 1,000 submissions from six countries, which were then juried by a team over a three-day period of time. This jury selected the over 400 pieces of art currently on display here at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital. We make accommodations for artists who are challenged by the online submission process. We’ll meet with an artist, get images of their artwork, and then complete the submission process on their behalf. We don’t want an artist’s disability to be what stops them from participating in the exhibit.
And what makes Art Ability 2017 so special? CL: Art Ability is dedicated to creating community awareness of disabilities and encouraging people with disabilities to reach beyond their limitations to find fulfillment and inspiration through art. This year, we received a record number of art submissions, which tells us artists want to be a part of our show. Artists are welcomed to join guests at our Preview Reception, the night we open the exhibit, and this year we had a record number attend on November 5. Robert Flatt, our 2016 featured artist was in attendance from Texas as well as Siddharsha Sukla from India. Both of these artists have developed a following by Art Ability patrons. The quality of work Art Ability has been able to present this year is recognition to the artist’s technical skill and artistic vision. Because the exhibit is on the Hospital’s main floor, patients and clinicians benefit greatly from the artworks as well. Art is often used as a tool to motivate and treat patients.
How would you describe the body of artwork currently on display? SHERMAN FLEMING: I think artists are exploring more with different techniques and ways of presenting within the confines of the gallery space here at the Hospital. There’s more larger-scale artwork than before, so that's new and different.
Giraffes Drinking-Zebras Braying, Robert Flatt, digital photograph ($1,500).art-ability.org
Why do you think Art Ability has been so successful? SF: I think the word is getting around—of this being the largest exhibit in the country—if not the world, of this type. Each year we are receiving more and more artists’ submissions from near and far. This year we received entries from 30 U.S. states and six countries including Canada, China, Denmark, Korea, India, and Taiwan. We are able to bring quality artwork to our local community to appreciate through the annual exhibit. The online sales gallery now affords our artists world-wide exposure an additional opportunities to sell their works and share their talents.
What are your hopes for Art Ability now and beyond? SF: One of our goals is to increase sales on the online gallery, art-ability.org. As great as it is that we have work on display her at BMRH, we want to be able to sell the work—and if people don't walk through our doors, it limits the opportunity. The 2017 exhibit will kick off on November 4 with a Preview Reception, and will be open to the public for 12 weeks starting Sunday, November 5, 2017.