Blog Post

2021 Accessible Expressions Ohio at the Springfield Museum of Art

full gallery view of the 2021 accessible expressions ohio exhibition gallery has white walls and high gloss hardwood floors
2021 Accessible Expressions Ohio installed at the Springfield Museum of Art, Photo by Elizabeth Wetterstroem

2021 was a big year for Accessible Expressions Ohio and Art Possible Ohio. For the first time since it began in 1996, Accessible Expression Ohio had its opening exhibition in an accredited art museum outside of central Ohio. The show was installed at the Springfield Museum of Art in Springfield, Ohio from March 27th, 2021 through the month of April. While we weren’t able to have an in person reception due to COVID-19 we did host a Facebook live event that featured a walk through and visual description of the exhibition, a virtual awards ceremony, and a virtual art making workshop with Springfield Museum of Art educator Anette Eshelman. In total, 2296 people viewers turned out for the events.

Why does this matter?

Megan and Molly wearing vintage VSA t-shirts and standing next to the Accessible Expressions Ohio vinyl wall sign in the Springfield museum of art. They are both wearing black pants and masks

Why should we care that Accessible Expressions Ohio opened in a museum?

In the last ten years the conversation around disability and museum access has gained incredible momentum. Museums have accessibility committees, host focus groups and walk throughs with members of the community with disabilities, and adapt programming using the tenants of Universal Design for Learning. We are making some headway in the world of public-facing or “front of house” museum accessibility. Some great examples that Art Possible Ohio has had the pleasure of consulting on include: touch tours, visual description, larger print and bulleted text panels, audio tours, accessible gallery layouts, sensory friendly rooms, adaptive art making materials for studio programs, and braille labels.

Let’s pause for a round of applause, but only for a minute because, as with all diversity, equity, inclusion, and access work, there is still so much to do. Try to remember the last time you were at a museum. How many of the artists represented in the galleries were women? people of color? non-western? indigenous? have a disability? I did a quick google search looking for statistics – how many artists with disabilities are represented in museum collections? The answer is that we don’t know because we haven’t even thought to count.

It matters because for the longest time the assumption made by museum directors who have primarily been white, western, Christian, men, has been that the best art is made by white, western, Christian, men. So the only art in museums is by white, western, Christian, men. If we only see art by people like that then we continue to assume that those are the only people capable of making art and being represented in museums, and further, those are the only creative voices worth listening to in our world.

full gallery view of the 2021 accessible expressions ohio exhibition gallery has white walls and high gloss hardwood floors
2021 Accessible Expressions Ohio installed at the Springfield Museum of Art, Photo by Elizabeth Wetterstroem

This is not only unfortunate, it limits us and misrepresents us. It reduces our society to one dimension. Every profession is made better by its diversification. We better understand medicine if we have doctors with the lived experience of being a woman, a transperson, a person of color, a person with a disability. Similarly, if our museums champion creative thinkers from all backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences, then we represent our communities better and we provoke more complicated and relevant discussions about our world and what we need to do to improve it and make it more equitable.

Finally, it matters because artworks by people with disabilities deserve to be in collections. People with disabilities deserve to be paid for their art and their ideas. People with disabilities deserve to see artists represented in their museums from their community who are like them. When we talk about equity and inclusion we often forget the role of imagination. If I have never seen anyone like me be an artist then it will be very difficult for me to imagine myself as an artist. If I visit a museum and see work by people with disabilities on the wall, suddenly I can imagine a world where my work might also be on the wall. Imagination is a powerful engine of creativity. Accessible Expressions Ohio artists and museums like Springfield Museum of Art fuel that engine.

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