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W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability

September 22 @ 5:30 pm - November 12 @ 5:30 pm

| Free
MANDEM, St. Persephone, The Medical Trials of the Saints’ series, Hand-colored photograph, Image Source: https://mythpunkart.tumblr.com/

MANDEM, St. Persephone (Detail), The Medical Trials of the Saints’ Series, Photographic collage, Image source: https://mythpunkart.tumblr.com/


March 2022: The Artists Archives of the Western Reserve (AAWR) is thrilled to announce they have been awarded a 2022 Arts and Culture Partership grant from Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities in support of their exhibition W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability! This grant money will be used to help offset the cost of accessibility measures, to produce an exhibition catalog, and to support inclusive/adaptive accompanying programming events.


The Artists Archives of the Western Reserve has also been verified as a proud Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities “ALL means ALL” organization. All people deserve to have equal access to and be equal participants in all aspects of community life. This includes where a person chooses to live, learn, work, and play. Cuyahoga DD’s ALL means ALL initiative provides guidance on actions businesses should take to ensure that they are welcoming of all people and able to support their inclusion in all activities, programs and events. To learn more about the ALL means ALL initiative, visit the Cuyahoga DD website. We look forward to serving the community with inclusion and equity for years to come!


Exhibition Summary:


Opening Reception: Thursday, September 22, 5:30 – 8:00pm

Exhibition Dates: September 22 – November 12, 2022

Artist Panel Discussion: (Tentative Date – Virtual) Wednesday, October 12th, 7:00 – 8:00pm

Puppet Making Workshop: Sunday, October 23rd, 1:00 – 2:30pm


Project Introduction: Abled bodied folks consider chronic illness and disability a “them” rather than an “us” problem – an unfortunate but distant reality which impacts only a tiny sliver of the population. This couldn’t be further from the truth. With an estimated 26% of Americans experiencing some form of disability, inclusion and accessibility are everyone’s responsibility, particularly those in the arts community, which often serves as the vanguard of social change.


In September, the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve will present W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability, a visual art exhibition which engages the Chronic Illness & Disabled populations in two critical ways: first, by enthusiastically displaying the work of regional artists who experience chronic illness & disability, and second, by creating an inclusive and accessible viewing experience for members of those valuable communities.


Exhibition Goals: The goals of W/O Limits are to heighten the visibility of artists experiencing chronic illness and disability, and raise awareness of the need for inclusion and accessibility within the arts. Through the display of technically masterful works by professional level artists, the show also seeks to flaunt the talent of these communities and shatter preconceived notions of what people with chronic illness and disability can create.


Featured Artists: W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability will showcase the evocative work of 8 Northeast Ohio artists, including Sarah Brown, Kristi Copez, Chappelle Letman Jr., MANDEM, Meg Matko, Arabella Proffer, Nate Puppets, Andrew Reach, and Kate Snow. In addition to their disabilities or illnesses, all of the exhibiting artists also identify as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, or are women – a testament to the diversity of populations impacted by these conditions.


Sarah Brown (she/her), MA, LPCC, ATR is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Registered Art Therapist who completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ball State University and went on to earn a double Master’s Degree from Ursuline College in 2015, after having brain surgery to address her epilepsy in 2008. Since her surgery, Sarah has created several shows focusing on epilepsy. Today, Sarah works for the Intensive Outpatient Program for Cleveland Clinic Akron General, and she is an Empowering Epilepsy Board Member. Sarah’s art is inspired by her personal journey with epilepsy, psychology, and art, and seeks to foster continued unity and growth between these fields.


Kristi Copez (she/her) is an Advocate-Artist. Blogger. Chronic-Illness-Warrior. Coffee-Lover. Dancer. Foodie. Grandmother. Other-Mother. Maven. Phoenix. Poetic-Essayist. Veteran. & all-around Brazen woman! Copez was recognized by The Tyrian Network of Ohio and was awarded “Artist of the Year” (2017-2018). Kristi envisions a non-profit (Arukah Art) that supports living as a person of faith notwithstanding chronic illness(es), especially women who’ve come through trauma. Arukah Art will be a sacred space for creating a sense of spiritual, emotional, & physical resilience and vigorous well-being. She has earned her A.A. in Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution, her B.A. in Studio Art, and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Theology & Pastoral Studies. Of late, Copez has been working powerfully in ceramics as well as the written and/or spoken word.


Chappelle Letman Jr. (he/him: 1950 – 2020) was a successful painter and printmaker until 1992, when at age 41 he lost his sight to glaucoma. Rather than give up his life as a visual artist, Letman turned to carving stone sculpture. “I didn’t let my disability interfere with my life’s calling,” he reflected. “I’ve always been an artist. My job is to be myself as an artist and I want to inspire others to be themselves and not set limitations.” When not sculpting in his studio in Cleveland, Chappelle spoke to children, both with and without disabilities, about the value of creativity and transcending your limitations. Letmen exhibited widely and served as an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. His sculptures are now collected nationally. Though he passed away in 2020, members of the regional arts community are advocating for increased recognition of his important work.


MANDEM (they/them) is the name shared by an intergenerational artist trio that collectively identifies as nonbinary/genderqueer and as neurodiverse and/or disabled. They describe their work as “radically interdisciplinary, working across a spectrum of media and materials.” MANDEM’s pieces explore the visceral and disabled body, art history, religious iconography, and issues of gender and desire. Their art is simultaneously disruptive and beautiful, in critical dialogue with art history and mythology. MANDEM has been an artist-in-residence at Il Palmerino (Florence, Italy) and The Culture Palette (Hoptacong, NJ). They have received grants from the Ohio Arts Council, Dayton Visual Arts Center, and Lippman Kanfer Foundation and their work has been exhibited in Italy, England, Canada, and the U.S.


Meg Matko (she/her) is a visual / interdisciplinary artist focusing her work in object-based and durational performance, sculpture / object-making and two-dimensional works. Her often ephemeral explorations tend to center on witness of a private or intimate gesture surfacing in a public environment; returning continually to themes of feminine identity, masochism, emotional processing, collecting/coveting and preciousness. Body-based investigations push the limits of her own physicality, become exercises in repetition and/or unpack the artist – audience relationship through both personal and universal meditations.


Arabella Proffer (she/her) is an artist, author, and co-founder of the indie label Elephant Stone Records. She attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA before receiving her BFA from California Institute of the Arts. Arabella’s work is in over 60 private collections, and she participates in solo and group exhibitions throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. In July of 2020, Proffer was diagnosed with a rare and inoperable form of terminal cancer. Prior to her diagnosis, her work suddenly shifted from a pop-surrealist form of portraiture to a type of organic, biomorphic abstraction. Later, these tendrilled forms were discovered to mirror the shapes of the tumors which populated her body. This transition in style speaks to the unique connection between the body and visual art, as well as art’s ability to explore and process the experience of illness.


Nate Puppets (he/him, they/them) has been fascinated by puppets his entire life. He grew up in the 90’s, when there were numerous puppet shows on television, which he would sit and stare at in fascination. At the age of eleven, Nate suffered from a dislocated hip, the complications from which would lead to his permanent disability and reliance on a wheelchair. Following the injury, young Nate became a ventriloquist and developed “an obsession with puppetry”. Nate considers his work “weird to say the least,” but “loves being out there.” He sees his performances as “totally raw,” with no limitations other than the ones he gives himself, and feels “that’s important in all art, not just puppetry, so I try to apply it in my work.” Nate has exhibited his pieces in multiple shows along the east coast, including The Living Objects: African American Puppetry Exhibition at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, CT, as well as at many locations in Ohio including the Artists Archives and Waterloo Arts in Cleveland.


Andrew Reach (he/him) was an architect for over 20 years, when in 2005, a progressive spine disease left him disabled and unable to continue practicing. As he describes, “this marked an end and a rebirth, when on a self-taught journey of discovery, I began to use the computer to make art as therapy to help me cope with pain and depression. Prior to my disability, as an architect practicing a visual art form separate from the sphere of the other visual arts, my artistic abilities were always in service to the making of buildings. Now I found myself creating art on a computer program as if the works of art had been inside me all along, waiting for the day the technology would come around to realize them. I have come to embrace digital technology to create large format works that would be too physically demanding for me to paint. The ability to cut out the shape further energizes, freeing the geometry to reveal its edges, a proxy for me to escape as well. Each artwork I make is a joyous visual song representing a little piece of me that has been freed.”


Kate Snow (she/her) is a painter and printmaker from Cleveland, OH. Since beginning to exhibit in 2015, Snow’s work has been shown across the United States and Germany, as well as included in numerous public and private collections. Recently, Snow has begun to create striking pointillist paintings which chronical her battle with autoimmune disease. When Covid disrupted Snow’s regular medical treatments, the resulting flair ups made working in the studio painful and impractical. Snow describes her new work as a response to “being stuck, tracking time. Making a painting a day that documents my ability, a journal, a diary of my day-to-day. Some days I can function and work in the studio for up to three hours. Some days I can’t get out of bed.” Her dedication to “reach beyond her own physical and emotional obstacles” has become an integral part of her process and practice.  In 2021, Snow was the recipient of the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.


Curation from the Community: Curated by Megan Alves and Mindy Tousley, W/O Limits will combine the lived experience and professional prowess of its curators to create a high-quality viewing experience which emphasizes the prodigious talent of the featured artists.


Megan Alves is an Art Historian and the current Marketing and Program Manager for the Artists Archives where she is known for creating dynamic programming which amplifies underrepresented voices in the creative community. Alves received B.A.’s in Comparative Literature and Art History from Oberlin College and was a Curatorial Intern at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. From 2018 – 2019, she worked as a freelance arts correspondent for Cool Cleveland, a locally minded culture periodical with an emphasis on social justice. Some of her notable programs include: The Legacy of African American Textile Art with Cynthia Lockhart; Through Our Lens: Photography as a Tool of Social Justice; 4 African American Women Artists You Should Know with Amalia Amaki; The May Show: The Museum, The Community, & The Story of Art in Cleveland; Un(masc)ing Drag History with Dr. Lady J; and ART + AIDS: A Virtual Panel Discussion.


Alves conceived of W/O Limits as extension of her own her own journey living with multiple chronic illnesses including Rheumatoid Arthritis and Scleroderma, a rare and progressive autoimmune disease which impacts the connective tissue.


Mindy Tousley is the Executive Director and Chief Curator for the Artists Archives, as well as an award-winning professional artist. Tousley brings a unique set of skills and experiences to AAWR. She co-directed City Artists at Work for 17 years in Cleveland’s Campus Inc. District, where she organized public open studio tours for 60 – 100 artists per year. As part of her past experience as gallery owner and gallery Director, she curated over 100 exhibitions of Ohio Artists. Her AAWR exhibitions include: Newcelle, Reinvention; Bridges & Barriers; About Body / About Face; Visual Emotions; A Wild Ride; Fantastical Landscapes; Tea 4 Two; City Artists at Work / City Artists at Rest; and Stories in Light. She was the co-curator for SeenUNseen in partnership with former Sculpture Center Director Ann Albano.


Interactive Artwork: An exciting element of the exhibition is the inclusion of touchable artwork designed for people with visual impairments and Autism Spectrum Disorder. With the help of an artist stipend, and input from his Autistic partner, Matt, Nate Puppets will be crafting several welcoming soft sculptures which are tailored to the needs of those with sensory sensitivities. Ceramist Kristi Copez will also display touchable pieces for people with visual impairment, and several other interactive pieces are currently under consideration.


Accessibility and Adaptive Measures: In addition to proudly displaying art created by people experiencing chronic illness or disability, W/O Limits is committed to creating a rewarding and inclusive viewing experience for as wide a spectrum of visitors as possible. Some of the accommodations which will be provided are:


  • Touchable artwork for those with visual impairment or sensory sensitivities
  • Exhibition labels and didactics in braille
  • Large font exhibition hand-outs
  • Additional exhibition labels & didactics at wheel-chair height
  • Lower pedestals for easy viewing from wheelchairs
  • Special limited capacity visitation hours for the immunocompromised and those with sensory sensitivities, including optional lower exhibition lighting
  • Gallery chairs available for those with mobility issues
  • Visually descriptive tours available by appointment for those with visual impairments
  • Tours available by appointment with deaf interpreters
  • Catalogs, available for free (or pay what you can) for those with chronic illnesses or disabilities that are unable to safely attend the show in person



Programming: W/O Limits will employ 3 distinct kinds of Chronic Illness and Disability centered programming to foster community connection and create relationships and friendships within the arts.


Tours: The Archives will actively reach out to local disability advocate organizations to organize collaborative tours including the Cleveland Sight Center, Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, special education groups within the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and Disabled Veteran groups associated with the Veterans Administration. Exhibiting artists will be invited to speak at these events and connect with the visitors.


Virtual Artist Panel Discussion: W/O Limits will also be accompanied by a free, virtual artist panel discussion which will provide deeper insight into the artists’ work as well as a platform to discuss issues of accessibility in the arts. This digital event will include a community Q&A period to connect the speakers to the audience, as well as allow for broadcast of the show’s mission outside the gallery walls for those who are unable to attend in person.


Puppet Making Workshops: W/O Limits will feature two puppet making workshops led by exhibiting artist Nate Puppets with facilitation by Clinical Social Worker Chris Richards-Pagel, BFA, MSW, APSW. These small group events are designed for people with developmental disabilities, specifically those on the Autism spectrum or others who face challenges with self-expression, communication, and/or social interaction.


During the free, two-hour sessions, participants will be encouraged to create an “identity puppet” which represents an aspect of themselves using an easy-to-follow template and an exciting array of props and materials. After their puppets are complete, Nate will provide expert instruction to animate their creations, giving them voice and agency. The final component will be a therapeutic puppet storytelling opportunity, led by Richards-Pagel, which will promote positive self-image, as well as foster social/emotional intelligence and effective communication skills. When the workshop is finished, attendees will leave with a fully developed puppet to encourage further engagement and social interaction.


About the Artists Archives:  The Artists Archives of the Western Reserve (AAWR) is a unique archival facility and regional museum created to preserve representative bodies of work by Ohio visual artists. Through ongoing research, exhibition, and educational programs the AAWR actively documents and promotes this cultural heritage for the benefit of the public. The Artists Archives of the Western Reserve would also like to thank Ohio Arts Council, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the people of Cuyahoga County, the George Gund Foundation, the Bernice & David E. Davis Foundation, the William Bingham Foundation and the Zufall Foundation for their continuing support.


September 22 @ 5:30 pm
November 12 @ 5:30 pm
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Artists Archives of the Western Reserve
1834 E. 123rd St.
Cleveland, 44106-1910 United States
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