SiTE: LAB Ramps Up Access

Christopher Smit, executive director of DisArt, tells students how art and accessibility connect

During an ArtPrize field trip last week, senior Katie Bork stopped to talk to Christopher Smit, executive director of DisArt, an effort that aims to connect people who have disabilities to art and promote accessibility.

Katie, who has a genetic disorder that affects her bones, told Smit and Lisa VanArragon, curatorial director for DisArt, that she knows how it feels to have trouble on stairs and with walking long distances. “I just wanted to say how cool this is, because there are people with invisible disabilities,” Katie said. “This brings it all together.”

Katie had just traversed Hybrid Structures, a leveled ramp that connects three structures within SiTE:LAB’s Rumsey St. Project. The ramp offers a way for people with disabilities to more easily view art, while building awareness about disabilities and access issues. “It connects a lot more people to something that would otherwise be challenging,” she said.

Art students met with Smit and VanArragon to talk about DisArt and the ramp as a piece of art in itself. The ramp was conceived in partnership with Smit by artist Alois Kronschlaeger, in collaboration with artist Paul Amenta and architect Ted Lott.

“What we are really hoping is that the ramp and the gallery will help (students) think about issues of access, and who has access to community, to city life, to Grand Rapids itself,” Smit said.

The American Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990, is a civil rights law, but people don’t always realize that, he said.

“Think about who is involved at school and who is not involved. Who is invited to the table?” he said.

Caledonia High School students peer down from the Hybrid Structures ramp at SiTE:Lab
Caledonia High School students peer down from the Hybrid Structures ramp at SiTE:Lab

Ramping Up Access to Art

ArtPrize installations that the ramp provides access to are within SiTE:LAB, a four time winner of the competition’s juried award for best venue. SiTE:LAB has converted an entire city block into a temporary arts district. Numerous unoccupied structures, including a church and rectory, body shop and several residences, as well as vacant lots, provide a setting for installations selected by curator Amenta.

Katie, an illustrator who hopes to enter ArtPrize next year, said she thinks the ramp gives people a new perspective on art and disabilities. She plans to volunteer with DisArt and be part of its events and exhibits.

“I feel like art can be hung up anywhere and ramps can be put on everywhere. I feel like this opens people’s eyes to maybe putting ramps in their own private businesses and putting them in schools and hospitals and things like that.”

Caledonia art teacher Evan Chamberlain said he hopes all students come away thinking more about people with disabilities. “This is just such a cool idea they have here, to bring awareness to ways people are differently abled.”

CONNECT

SiTE:LAB

DisArt Hybrid Gallery

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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