Canadian Artists with Disabilities

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Maman statue, Ottawa

Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, today I rise to draw your attention to and celebrate Canadian artists with disabilities and those who are deaf. Their substantial contributions in all artistic disciplines are too often forgotten or put to the side.

The three international languages — movement, music and the visual arts — take on particular prominence for creators with disabilities. Special organizations and associations provide services or arts programming for people with disabilities, like Kingston’s H’Art Centre, which I have spoken about before. Their multidisciplinary programming includes visual art, music and theatre. Musicians with disabilities perform alongside members of the Kingston Symphony, plays are produced with actors of various disabilities and the richness of their visual arts is well known.

Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba, the voice for the province’s artists and audiences with disabilities, is dedicated to the full inclusion of artists and audiences with disabilities into all facets of the arts. Supporting artists in achieving their artistic excellence and gaining a higher visibility, they also promote policies and practices to make the arts more accessible to all Manitobans. Providing access to resources, they bring artists with disabilities and stakeholders together. The disability-led and disability-informed front of house and backstage audit of concert halls and theatres, now under way, will develop a database of accessible venues.

Vancouver Adapted Music Society supports and promotes musicians with physical disabilities in the Metro Vancouver area. Formed in 1988 by two musicians with high-level disabilities, they operate a fully accessible recording studio, proving disability is not a barrier to creativity.

Individual artists with disabilities or those who are deaf have certainly made an impact in Canada and abroad. Deaf actress Elizabeth Morris, for instance, has been on stage at the Edinburgh International Festival. Playwright Debbie Patterson’s work, filled with poignant and honest insights, has been presented to great acclaim across Canada. Frank Hull is a well-known, inspirational movement wheelchair dancer and choreographer living with cerebral palsy. Winnipeg’s Ted Howarth, an acclaimed printmaker who has exhibited internationally for decades, did not let his life in a wheelchair stop his innovative and complex printmaking practice, or compromise his excellence as a fine arts professor.

We have all received a beautiful cushion woven by Senator Cotter’s daughter and her colleagues. No one can say that art, in all disciplines, made by artists with disabilities lacks creativity or excellence.

Colleagues, the needs are great across this country for both artists and audiences who have to deal with their disabilities or deafness. May we listen to their voices, act and celebrate their work and help to ensure everyone can participate as they wish and as they can. Thank you.


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