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Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital showcases the work of artists with disabilities

December 2, 2019 Category: ColumnFeaturedMediumPurpose
For the past 24 years, Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Malvern has provided artists with disabilities a unique opportunity to exhibit and sell their work.

Art Ability is an annual, 12-week juried exhibition of work by artists with disabilities, and this year it showcases the talents of 200 artists representing 30 states and eight countries.

Up, Up & Away by Carol Spiker.

According to Cristine Largoza, coordinator of the event, this program allows viewers to look beyond an artist’s disability and shifts focus to the artwork instead. “Artists from around the world can submit digital images,” Largoza said. “These images are first put through a blind jury process, where the artist’s name and disability are hidden, and the jury sees only the size, price and medium of the artwork when it is reviewed. Once the final pieces are selected, a smaller jury of three professionals evaluates the artwork, and that group chooses first, second, and third place winners along with honorable mention in each of seven categories. This process removes labels and allows the art to be judged by merit alone. Over $7,000 in cash prizes are given out each year.”

Artists get to keep 80% of the proceeds from the sale of their work, with the remaining 20% supporting patient services at the hospital.

Featured artist Carol Spiker (r) and her husband William, also a participating artist. (Courtesy photo)

The live auction at the opening gala.

Karen Gadson, Bryn Mawr Rehab’s executive director of development, reflected on the early years of the event, and how it has evolved. “For the first 21 years, the annual exhibition kicked off with an opening night art reception, with artwork exhibited throughout the first floor of the hospital. In 2016, we decided to add on a dinner and auction and, as part of that venue, invited a patient to share about their journey and experience with Bryn Mawr Rehab.”

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“This expanded event has increased significantly the number of attendees and overall success, with increased art sales and funds raised in support of hospital priorities,” Gadson added. This year’s preview party event netted over $325,000.

The art in the exhibition is also used daily to motivate and treat patients at the hospital. Therapists incorporate Art Ability work into their daily activities with patients, using the collection as tangible evidence of their potential to return to meaningful, productive lives.

Art Ability artists are invited to participate in demo days, during which they work in small groups with current patients and every participant creates a piece of work under the artist’s guidance.

The Dream, mixed media, by Thu Nguyen won an award at Art Ability  this year. (Courtesy photo)

In addition, the hospital has acquired a permanent collection of art over the years, and regularly displays that work in satellite exhibitions in locations around the region to advocate for those with disabilities.

The mission of Bryn Mawr Rehab is to help patients regain their independence no matter how catastrophic the illness or injury. Keith Boyer, a board member who was once a patient, admits that this can be challenging. “It can be hard to stay motivated when recovering from a life-changing injury,” Boyer said, “but when you see the incredible work created by these artists despite their disabilities, it’s really inspirational.”

Art Ability runs through Jan. 26, 2020 and is open to the public.

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