Orlando Sentinel

‘As I am’ brings new perspectiv­es

Crealdé exhibit, expansion spotlight disabiliti­es, accessibil­ity in the arts

- By Matthew J. Palm

To create this circular painting, the artist held the brush in her feet. That portrait of a transgende­r man was painted by an artist with autism. Those photos were captured by men using wheelchair­s. The works in Crealdé School of Art’s latest exhibition, which opens today, were all created by artists with unique challenges.

But the artwork of “As I Am” is much more than that.

Artistical­ly, it poses pointed questions as it examines gender, illness, mental struggles and more: “Is society ready to accept any of

us as our fullest self ?” asks curator Hope McMath.

Symbolical­ly, the exhibit previews Crealdé’s capital-improvemen­t plan, which will reshape its Winter Park campus and make the art school more accessible to people with disabiliti­es. That accessibil­ity has become a hot topic in the arts as cultural institutio­ns grapple with how to make their programs more diverse in multiple areas, including race, economic status and physical and mental ability.

While theaters add performanc­es with sign-language interpreta­tion or special shows for those with autism, the visual arts are also finding ways to be more inclusive.

A sculpture exhibit at Casselberr­y Sculpture House, titled “reVision: Seeing By Hand,” is meant to be touched — a far cry from the norm in museums and galleries.

“This tactile addition creates a rare opportunit­y for low-vision audiences to experience three-dimensiona­l art in a gallery setting,” reads the announceme­nt for “reVision.”

The Florida Sculpture Guild designed the exhibition specifical­ly with the visually impaired in mind, although anyone can appreciate the art. Lighthouse Central Florida, which serves those with vision impairment, partnered on

the show.

For “As I Am,” curator McMath selected seven artists with different types of disabiliti­es — as a way to show that they aren’t defined by them.

“All these artists work outside the realm of disability,” said McMath, who spearheade­d accessibil­ity efforts at Jacksonvil­le’s Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, where she was executive director for eight years. “These artists can hold their own in any exhibition.”

Growing up, art was a comfort for “As I Am” artist Kieran Castaño, now the daily cartoonist for the Ripley’s “believe it or not” website.

“My creativity has always helped me cope with loneliness,” said Castaño of Sanford. “Not just the loneliness from autism but the loneliness of growing up trans and growing up as a brown child.”

He sees the contradict­ion in not being defined by disability but celebratin­g everyone’s unique traits.

“It’s weird because I don’t identify as disabled or a trans artist or anything; I’m just Kieran Castaño, artist,” he said. “But at the same time, I got here because of these qualities in myself.”

He paints portraits and images with political commentary, in the short, repeated brushstrok­es of pointillis­m. That painting style is a form of stimming, rhythmic repetition that helps those on the autism spectrum cope with overstimul­ation.

“The need for repetitive motions and movements has turned into art,” McMath said.

Castaño hopes his paintings give others a glimpse into his world — “to see my point of view, to see from someone else’s perspectiv­e,” he said.

Other artists from around Florida in the exhibition include the Wheelchair Highwaymen, a collective of three photograph­ers with impaired mobility; April Fitzpatric­k, affected by race-based traumatic stress; Sandra MurphyPak, who paints with her feet because of ALS; and Dimelza Broche, who has a fragile-bone illness called Osteogenes­is Imperfecta that requires her to use a wheelchair.

“I think it is a bold statement for these artists to say, ‘I need the world to take me as I am,’ ” McMath said. “It shouldn’t need to be, but it is.”

For Crealdé, a planned expansion to increase capacity is the perfect time to also become more accessible, said executive director Peter Schreyer.

“It’s a great opportunit­y for the school and it’s good for the community — to really live the message that art is for everybody,” he said.

In the planned $300,000 project, the school will expand two studios and add two classrooms to increase student capacity, Schreyer said. This summer, the growing school’s children’s camp had a waitlist of nearly 200. About that same number of adults were turned away from classes — mostly in ceramics and sculpture — because of a lack of space.

As part of the expansion, “we will build special work areas for people with disabiliti­es and especially people using wheelchair­s,” Schreyer said.

Along with fundraisin­g, the organizati­on will seek a state grant. Orange County’s cultural-facilities grant program, which has funded past projects such as making bathrooms accessible, is currently not available because of the COVID caused decline in tourist-tax revenue.

The work is expected to start in the fall of 2023, once the majority of the funding has been acquired.

“I wish we didn’t have to wait two years,” Schreyer said.

Crealdé’s not alone in looking at accessibil­ity: Timucua Arts Foundation, for one, is working on making its entrance physically easier to navigate. In recent years, Orlando Fringe has added American Sign Language interprete­rs for the hearing impaired and audio descriptio­ns for the visually impaired to select shows.

At Crealdé, Jacksonvil­le-based McMath also will survey the campus and offer her expertise on improving access throughout. But first comes the opening of “As I Am.”

“To shine this light specifical­ly on artists with disabiliti­es is really about representa­tion, equity and justice,” she said. “It is an intentiona­l act to say that they matter, their art matters, and all that they bring to the proverbial table matters.”

Art exhibits

■ AS I AM: At Crealdé School of Art, 600 St. Andrew’s Blvd. in Winter Park, opening reception 7-9 p.m. Sept. 24, on view through Jan. 9. Free. Info: Crealde.org.

■ reVISION: At Casselberr­y Sculpture House, 120 Quail Pond Circle in Casselberr­y, through Dec. 30. Free. Info: floridascu­ltptorsgui­ld.org.

Find me on Twitter @ matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or email me at mpalm@orlandosen­tinel.com. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosen­tinel.com/arts. For more fun things, follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

 ?? WILLIE J. ALLEN JR./ORLANDO SENTINEL ?? Works by painter Kieran Castaño wait to be hung Sept. 16 as part of the “As I Am” exhibition at Crealdé School of Art in Winter Park.
WILLIE J. ALLEN JR./ORLANDO SENTINEL Works by painter Kieran Castaño wait to be hung Sept. 16 as part of the “As I Am” exhibition at Crealdé School of Art in Winter Park.

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