Although many of us have had to be separated during this time — which has been especially hard on those of us with disabilities and health issues — we at Cool Arts still managed to come together to make art as a community. Art/Apart, much like the manner it was made in, might feel disjointed at first, discombobulating, even a little bit of a hodgepodge, if you like. Look closer though and you might just see inspiration leap. Page to page, brushstroke to crayon, there is not one single piece in this gallery that has not been inspired by another here. Why? Because these many pieces were made together by our tight-knit community of dedicated artists with developmental disabilities and other exceptionalities. Here, we’re advocating the legitimacy of this collectively created aesthetic that is the byproduct of a unique set of lived experiences. But most of this work this wasn’t created in our downtown Kelowna, BC studio, nestled in the Rotary Centre for the Arts. Instead, for the first time in our organization’s nearly two-decade-long history, every artist featured in our latest show has had to work in isolation. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we knew it was essential to keep our Cool Arts community together, even from a distance. We started with moving our community programming to pre-recorded video lessons and rapidly progressed to live video conferencing and even a few limited attendance in-person programs behind clear plastic sheets. The shift in platform naturally changed the relationship between facilitators and our membership into a more intimate mentorship focused one. Some artists worked on scraps of paper out of the recycling bin, others started filling up notebooks long forgotten. We began delivering art supplies using physically distanced techniques picked up from the food curriers we’ve become so dependant on over the past few months. And every day, here at Cool Arts, we were receiving a plethora of emailed photos of these artworks from our artists, their families, and support workers. Before we knew it, we’d amassed a significant collection and knew we had an obligation to share it. Looking back, it seems obvious that one artist’s mentorship session would influence the others on the same screen and so on and so forth. However, for us, we didn’t get to see the interplay of intersecting interests influencing each work until we started laying out the pieces for this show. Originally, we were going to present this collection virtually via social media. Then when we saw how stunning all the pieces looked, we decided to put them up in digitally overlaid frames printed on posters around Kelowna’s Cultural District. But seeing those pieces together made us realize this show had to go up in a gallery. Which direction would we take this show? If this pandemic has taught us anything as disabled folk, it’s that different barriers of access exist differently for different people. Nothing taught us this more than the different ways each of us had to engage in our art making individually over these past few months; coming together under new restrictions, whether live virtually, in physically distanced in-person lessons, or exchanging pre-recorded video letters. So in the end we decided that with all the sacrifices our community has had to make during these tumultuous times, Cool Arts deserved all three. Because this is a celebration of what our community can do, even apart. And at Cool Arts, that means everyone gets to join in the celebration. We hope you enjoy the show.
November 12, 2020