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Making Museums More Inclusive with Shannon

Shannon Thacker-Cregg is an artist and arts professional based in Columbus, Ohio. She recently completed her Masters Thesis at the Ohio State University in the Department of Arts Policy and Administration. Shannon has worked at Open Door Studio and the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) and is an intern at Art Possible Ohio. This post dives into some of the work she has done around her thesis and in her time at Open Door and CMA.

portrait of shannon with long brown hair and a red scoop neck shirt
Shannon Thacker-Cregg

How can art museums be more inclusive and accessible for artists with disabilities? Furthermore, how can art museum educators consider the identities of artists when creating programming? These were a few of the questions that I sought to answer through creating a professional development program for artists at Open Door Art Studio (an accessible art studio in Grandview, Ohio)  and artists from the broader Columbus community.

Considering how art museums should best engage with artists with disabilities is a complex topic. Within the art world, artists with disabilities are frequently labeled as outsider artists— a term that indicates any artist working outside of the “mainstream” art establishment. This label of outsider artist is often stigmatizing and belittles the perspectives and professionalism of artists with disabilities. 

large, open, bright, art studio with long tables in foreground and art on the walls in the background with art storage racks beneath
Open Door Art Studio and Gallery

In addition to the stigmatization that artists with disabilities experience, art museums and other cultural organizations also have struggled to include visitors with disabilities. This is evident in the low numbers of visitors with disabilities to art museums and cultural organizations and the research that suggests that museums are still not fully accessible to visitors with disabilities.  

Therefore, due to the stigmatization of artists with disabilities and the lack of accessibility in art museums, I designed a professional development workshop at the Columbus Museum of Art for artists at Open Door Art Studio and artists from the broader Columbus arts community. I also partnered with Art Possible Ohio, who assisted with the planning and facilitation of the workshop.  

bright studio with green floor and large table in foreground covered in brown kraft paper and wall in background with art installation
Columbus Museum of Art Studio

In designing the program, I interviewed artists and staff members at Open Door Art Studio to determine how to structure the program to fit the desires of Open Door Art Studio artists and staff. Based on these interviews, I developed a program that included a discussion in the Columbus Museum of Art’s galleries and artmaking in the museum’s studio space. For the time in the studio, artists were paired in groups of two to work together collaboratively to create art together based off of the prompt of “space.” 

I interviewed the artists a week after the program to learn more about their experiences.  I discovered two key findings. First, from the interviews, one of the things that stood out was that collaborative art making was a great way to foster social connection between artists. Second, collaboration served to place artists from Open Door Art Studio on equal footing with artists from the broader community. Two of the three Open Door Art Studio artists spoke about feeling like equal collaborators during the workshop — which stood out in contrast to some of their past educational and artistic experiences. Overall, this project pointed to new strategies, such as collaboration, that museums can use to create more inclusive and equitable programming. 

Here are the artworks the artist teams created:

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