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Accessibility is at the forefront in Inclusive Arts Vermont's new 'CYCLES' exhibition

A photo showing two people facing each other and speaking. One person has long blue and purple hair and is wearing glasses and a dark blue shirt with bright blue peacocks on it. The second person is wearing a black shirt and has medium length curly brown hair. Both people have light skin.  They're standing in front of a wall with two framed artworks on it. The first artwork is a photorealistic depiction of a whale in turquoise water. The second artwork is a framed painting of rainbow concentric circles radiating inwards towards a black circular center.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Aurora Berger, right, is a Strafford resident and one of the 25 artists with disabilities showing work in Inclusive Art Vermont's fifth biennial exhibition, titled CYCLES. Berger's acrylic painting, Black Hole II, is one of several pieces in the show accompanied by a tactile representation. Here Berger is sharing about her work with Alexandra Turner, Inclusive Arts Vermont's director of inclusive education.

Right now, the fourth floor of the University of Vermont's Davis Center hosts an art exhibition titled CYCLES.

It's the fifth show put on by Inclusive Arts Vermont, displaying the work of 25 artists with disabilities.

Among them is Winooski artist Persephone Ringgenberg. She has a piece titled Hair Suspension, which includes four photos of a woman hanging from a carabiner attached to her hair at the Champlain Valley Fair.

Ringgenberg said she was drawn to the woman’s movement, and as a person living with epilepsy, she said making art is how she catches memories.

“So I've had numerous seizures, and I sort of have [traumatic brain injuries] from it," she said. "And my memory, I have good memory on some things and bad memories on others … but that's how I remember things and capture moments, is by taking pictures and painting.”

A photo of a light-skinned person smiling next to a tan labradoodle dog. The person has long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, and is wearing glasses and a black shirt. Behind the person and the dog, artwork hangs on a wall. The main piece is a bicycle wheel rim lit up with purple LED lights, with four framed photos showing blue sky and a woman hanging from a rope that she's attached to by her hair.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Persephone Ringgenberg and her service dog, Willow, pose for a portrait next to her artwork (upper left) titled Hair Suspension.

Ringgenberg and the other artists' work will be shown not only in Burlington but Brattleboro, Montpelier and St. Johnsbury.

And at the exhibition's opening reception at UVM this week, Megan Bent, Inclusive Arts Vermont director of communications and digital access, emphasized the "varied and ever-changing" nature of access.

"We think of access in many ways," Bent said. "It's welcoming, it's inclusion. Accessibility is care and creativity. And I also want to acknowledge that through accessibility, our goal is to eliminate not only barriers of inclusion, but also the time and emotional labor that disabled folks spend having to wonder if something is accessible or if it's going to be inclusive of them."

The opening reception at UVM, for instance, offered American Sign Language interpretation, a quiet space and sensory items.

The remaining opening receptions at the other venues will offer these same resources. And throughout the exhibition, CYCLES will be physically accessible.

Each of the 27 curated artworks is accompanied by a verbal description, and they're available in multiple formats, including print, large print, Braille, audio and digital.

Some of the art has a tactile representation, too. There's a painting of white puffy clouds set against a pink sky over blue waters, and sitting next to it is a fluffy pile of fiber with a sign reading, “Please touch!”

A photo showing a pile of white fluffy fiber next to a sign reading "please touch!" Above the fiber is a sign reading Inclusive Arts Vermont with a circular logo of hand-painted brush strokes and dots in teal, orange, purple and dark blue colors. Next to that sign is a painting of white puffy clouds in a pink and blue sky over blue waters. Small pink figures are painted shown diving into the water, then climbing back out to dive again.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
A tactile representation is offered next to Leah Schulz's acrylic painting, titled Cyclical Choices.

Elsewhere, there's a touchable representation of a painting titled Black Hole II. For Strafford artist Aurora Berger, it's her third Inclusive Arts Vermont show — but her first time creating something like this.

“And it's a very 3D, tactile-feeling acrylic painting of receding rainbow into a black hole, essentially," Berger said. "It looks so satisfying to touch. So I wanted to make a tactile version. I’m also visually impaired, so I feel very strongly about tactile versions of art. And this is something that I could do.”

Berger said she made this painting during a mental health crisis, "in this moment of feeling like you're going to, you're moving towards the edge of collapse, and everything is just moving in."

And she said that for her, it's important to not only make her work, but share it.

"So as a disability activist, and as an art activist as well, I think that showing work is so important to sharing experiences with other people," Berger said. "And my work has always been about my experiences processing an ableist society. And also just my own experiences inside my body and what it feels like to be processing things."

A photo of a light-skinned person with blue and purple hair and glasses standing in the foreground of a painting, which is in focus. The painting is of rainbow concentric circles spiraling in toward a black, circular center.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Aurora Berger said she painted Black Hole II during an intense mental health crisis, as a way to share what it felt like to be in her brain.

Those who can't go to the exhibition in person can experience it remotely through an online tour. That option is especially important to Megan Bent, with Inclusive Arts Vermont.

“I feel like one of my forays like, further into accessibility — and especially digital accessibility — was being someone who is immunocompromised through the pandemic, and entering into those like, really joyful spaces where access was centered," she said, growing visibly emotional. "I had never experienced anything like that. And it made me feel like, I want to do everything I can to like, make that happen whenever I can."

For Heidi Swevens, the director of community partnerships and exhibitions for Inclusive Arts Vermont, what came to mind during the CYCLES exhibition opening this week was a phrase coined by the disability activist Mia Mingus, called “access intimacy.”

"Part of what that is, it can be like, joy and celebration, and facing the barriers or the challenges in the world that haven't yet changed, but in community and in connection," Swevens said. "And somehow that just makes it OK, for the moment."

She added that access intimacy involves both people with and without disabilities. UVM art students, for instance, received accessibility training and helped install some of the pieces in the Davis Center.

Swevens said Inclusive Arts Vermont wants to make these exhibitions welcoming and comfortable for all to take part and engage with the art.

"So while we're centering disability, we're also celebrating inclusion, which goes beyond that — into people being who they are," she said.

The CYCLES exhibition runs now through December.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.