DisArt Origins with Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University

The 501(c)(3) organization that is now DisArt began as a collaboration with Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) and Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) in the spring of 2014. Working with key KCAD and UICA administration DisArt Executive Director Christopher Smit and DisArt Managing Director Jill Vyn developed an initiative to bring a two-week long Disability Arts Festival to Grand Rapids, MI in the spring of 2015.

In partnership with DisArt the City of Grand Rapids Former Mayor George Heartwell declared 2015 the year of Arts + Access in Grand Rapids. DisArt Festival and the exhibition, Art of the Lived Experiment, served as milestone events to highlight this city-wide initiative. Art of the Lived Experiment coordinated by Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (UICA), KCAD along with The Fed Galleries @ KCAD, and Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) as part of KCAD’s Arts + Access Initiative served as the centerpiece exhibition for the DisArt Festival. The primary funding support for this initiative was provided by the National Endowments for the Arts, Kendall College of Art and Design, Ferris State University, The Wege Foundation, Frey Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and Kate and Richard Wolters Foundation.

DisArt Values Relationships

Although there were many positive outcomes of this first festival, perhaps the most significant were the partnerships DisArt made along the way and since. These collaborations have been with local arts and cultural organizations and global partners from France and Japan who support our desire for Grand Rapids to become an international hotspot for Disability Arts and Culture. As a result, DisArt International Festival 2018 (November 1-11) will continue to establish Grand Rapids as a groundswell of approaches to cultural inclusion through the arts. 

DisArt Consistent Goals

Change perceptions about disabilities through world-class, contemporary art.

Increase engagement with DisArt, its mission, and it’s growing community of professional and nonprofit partners.

Introduce audiences to the Disability Culture movement and encourage their participation in the growing global conversation for Disability Rights.

Elevate the assigned value of Disability Art, artists, and the disabled experience worldwide.

Create a consistent world-class public art event that showcases new philosophies and technologies of access and inclusion.

Engageable Grand Rapids arts organizations to create programs that are in line with the DisArt mission.

Increase the voice, value, and visibility of Disabled people through art.