History

DisArt is quickly becoming one of the world’s most recognized producers of innovative, contemporary, Disability Art programs that amplify the voice, visibility, and value of all Disabled people.

The organization began as a collaboration with Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) and Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) in the spring of 2014. Working with key KCAD and UICA administration and local community partners, co-directors Chris Smit and Jill Vyn developed an initiative to bring a two-week-long Disability Arts Festival to Grand Rapids, Michigan in the spring of 2015.

In partnership with DisArt, the city of Grand Rapids’ Former Mayor George Heartwell declared 2015 the year of Arts + Access in Grand Rapids. DisArt Festival—which included the exhibition, Art of the Lived Experiment, three pop-up galleries, a film festival, artist talks, comedy, a fashion show, and programming by local disability service organizations—served as milestone events to highlight this city-wide initiative.

The primary funding support for this initiative was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Kendall College of Art and Design, Ferris State University, The Wege Foundation, Frey Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and Kate and Richard Wolters Foundation.

The goal of KCAD’s Arts + Access initiative was to produce an international Disability Arts Festival with DisArt that would engage faculty, staff, students, and the community at-large in a conversation about the definitions of disability through the power of contemporary art.

Following a very successful exhibition and festival, DisArt was strategically positioned to receive its 501(c)(3) status.