After 16 years of producing and presenting disabled-led and disability justice-informed dance, and producing numerous community events around performance, discussion, dance training, economic justice, and filmmaking, Disability Art and Culture Project (DACP) is executing closure procedures over the next several months. We are making this choice as a planned decision as a dialogue between our board, consultants, and community stakeholders. After much difficult reflection, we came to recognize that closing the organization is the best choice in the face of ongoing instability.
After founding Artistic Director and lead choreographer and teacher Kathy Coleman unexpectedly passed in early 2020, we had hoped to pause to reassess our needs and capacities, and resume the ground-breaking and innovative programming Kathy had developed virtually until in-person was safe again. However, long-buried stories of racial injustice and other harms to community members, volunteers, contractors, and board members surfaced. The DACP board hired LaVant Consulting to conduct an audit of the organization, and the firm provided us with a roadmap for working toward racial equity and disability justice. We began to move through this roadmap by growing the board and hiring a new Executive Director and Creative Director. However, it became quickly clear that the model of a hands-off, poorly trained board that the organization had been built upon, attempts to share power without a firm set of guidelines, and deeply competing ideas about the organization’s direction could not provide a solid foundation for continuing our artistic work nor the steps we had committed to from the roadmap.
The remaining DACP board are deeply proud of the work the organization has done, the community it built, and the opportunities for professional training and performance DACP has given over the years, rejecting the medical and special education inclusion models of disability, and instead building Deaf and disabled leadership and celebrating disability aesthetics and culture. Kathy was a true leader in the field. She worked simultaneously in the arts and on City commissions, networked nationally, and trained internationally to continually hone her craft. Her work was never considered special, and it was not created to make non-disabled people feel good or just be entertained. To Kathy, disability art was part and parcel of working toward social justice and practicing anti-ableism.
Thank you for supporting DACP’s mission and work over the years, including dance performances from the Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, the first ever Portland-based ReelAbilities film festival, and week-long residencies with renowned Deaf and disabled artists from across the country. We believe that having a disabled person found and lead a disability arts organization and prioritizing the goals, needs, and desires of disability community has created a much-needed and lasting impact in the Portland area. The disability community in Portland is deeply diverse, and yet the DACP board has always been majority white, at times entirely white-led. This is at odds with genuinely achieving the practice of disability justice Kathy had intended.
Disability justice can only be achieved, whether through arts, culture, or other areas, when the leaders are from LGBTQIA and BIPOC communities. If you are able, please support the work of Portland-area disability justice leaders through Disability Justice Dreaming.
Thank you for the opportunity to be in community with you,
Laurie Gilmer, Cheryl Green, and Amanda Boman-Mejía