Blog Post

Art Speaks: From Advocacy to Opportunity

white man in black suit with black mask on left holding an art piece with a white woman in a wheelchair with gray shirt and khaki pants.

Guest Post by 2022 AEO People’s Choice Award Winner Alicia M. Hopkins. View Alicia’s biography on Ohio artist registry by clicking here. Alicia was also recently chosen be part of Disabled Women Making History (and Art): Celebration of the 23rd Anniversary of the Olmstead Decision at the Toledo Museum of Art.

Art speaks for me when I am not able to speak. It serves as a vehicle to learn new information, process ideas, and to engage in conversation. It holds my goals. It tells the story of my independent living journey. It is what has helped me advocate for myself and others. Art has given me opportunity. I have used art my whole life to communicate with people all around me. It has helped me my whole life to have opportunities in education, advocacy, independent living and community engagement. 

Many people in Ohio know me because of my advocacy around accessibility in the arts. I founded Art Speaks Ohio, a grassroots advocacy group, the All Abilities Art Expo and the #Poetry4All Initiative. 

In 2020, When the pandemic shut down the world. It stopped my ability to go into the arts community. Overtime I found myself, grieving the loss of a community space to share my art and poetry with others. I had relocated as well. It made it difficult to plug into a brand new arts community.  I struggled to adapt to online virtual platforms for events. I shifted gears and decided to pursue publishing a fourth book.

In 2021 I experienced major struggles to find home care. Communication was getting more difficult with my home care waiver situation. I started to express my frustrations both in my art and in the Breaking Silences Advocacy group. I remember someone making the statement That we’re all one caregiver away from. That inspired an 11×7 art piece.

Purple letters One Caregiver away from…” human Hans with heart beat going through it. People of all races genders and cultural backgrounds standing in a grassy area. People with disabilities and regular folks. Word cloud bubbles and even cemetery. One word cloud bubble reads “Who Will Step Up to Help?”

This piece showed me for the first time how art can be so profoundly powerful that it speaks to others. The new owner of this piece helped me to see that art holds a conversation. It creates dialogue whether on your wall at home or in a museum. This piece sparked the idea of a bigger project.

I started something called the twelve panels project. It began as a way to invite people into my canvas. It was truly intense for me. My canvas is my white space to create and speak to the world that I often feel invisible in. This project helped me see I am apart of a community. We have common interests, we value similar things. We also all need caregivers. 

I took on a twelve panels project by interviewing people with disabilities, caregivers, family members all around Ohio. I asked people in two lines or less to tell me what they wanted people to know about the Ohio Direct Support Crisis. I asked people for a picture and I started sketching people in to my canvas as they told me the story behind the crisis in care in Ohio. My project highlights the story of the people, the legislators side, the case management aspect and the national impact of the direct support crisis.

I started sharing my art with people on social media through an art page I have that you can view by clicking here. I use my art to testify for the Ohio budget bill which you can review by clicking here. I presented my art to advocacy groups and to Disability Rights Ohio. The more I presented my art, I started gaining more confidence in my ability to speak. This opened up more opportunities for me. I got to meet the U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. 

I sat on many different advocacy panels and participated in the Ohio Olmsted Taskforce Forums (click here to view) about the Ohio Direct Support Crisis. I got to meet with several legislators. I wanted to take my art a step further. I launched a project called #Postcards4Advocacy. I turned my art into postcards that people can purchase and they can share with friends.

The whole idea Is to use the postcards to write legislators to tell them about how the direct support crisis affects them. 

I had approached some people who I know at Disability Rights Ohio about my ideas with the post cards and a letter writing campaign. I shared my desire to teach people how use art to advocate. I was looking for a fiscal sponsor grants to fund my project on a way to present this project so I could involve more people. Art has always opened opportunities for me. 

white man in black suit with black mask on left holding an art piece with a white woman in a wheelchair with gray shirt and khaki pants.

I was offered an advocacy consultant opportunity to do some work around the direct support crisis. I am currently partnering with Disability Rights Ohio on some projects utilizing the arts to help people know their rights. I will be teaching a six week workshop series called Creative Changemakers alongside Alexia Kremerling from Disability Rights Ohio on how to use the arts for advocacy. Additionally we will be collecting data on the Ohio Direct Support Crisis and utilizing that for further advocacy. Our art workshops will teach people the fundamentals of advocacy. It will give people with disabilities the ability to create art on the Ohio Direct Support Crisis. We are looking for partners down the road to help is share that art around Ohio. You can learn more about the workshops by clicking here.

Art provides opportunity. Just as it has provided employment for me. It opens doors for advocacy. I took my art to statehouse recently for an advocacy day with other people with disabilities.