Making Art Accessible—For All


Catherine J.H. Miller '08, PNCA Painting alumna, explores conceptions and misconceptions around disability in her recent exhibition.

In her recent Portland exhibition, A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability and Art, creator, curator and artist Catherine J.H. Miller ’08 explored conceptions and misconceptions around disability, impairment, accessibility and inclusion. Through art, literature and performance by artists with and without disabilities, Miller hoped to provoke conversation about the intersection of contemporary art and disability. Miller will also publish a book that explores and elaborates on the same themes.


Miller graduated from PNCA in 2008 with a BFA in Painting. Though compelled to make art all her life, Miller, who was born legally blind, only recently became a disability arts advocate. She realized that as a visually impaired person, much of the visual art world was closed to her. Gallery signage written in 8-point font, for example, effectively excludes visitors with sight impairments. A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability and Art was a celebration of a more inclusive fine arts world as well as an impassioned call for change.

Miller designed the exhibition to pull issues around disability into the fine arts dialogue. Part of that conversation involves thinking holistically about how museums are designed. She sees a disparity between the disability community’s needs and how art is presented in gallery spaces. A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability and Art was one of the most accessible exhibitions in Portland, complete with Braille and ASL guides.


Photo: Heather Zinger ’10

“The book and the exhibition are not the product, or art object, of my project,” Miller says in her mission statement. “Art is something less tangible and more powerful. The ‘art’ is [in] the conversation that the visitors and readers will have in the gallery space and beyond. It is the interaction between the arts communities, the disability communities, and the wider community around words like ‘disability art’, ‘disability pride art’, and un-named areas of artistic practice.”

The exhibition included a free workshop by Write Around Portland, artist talks, literary readings, an ADA celebration event and activities for audiences both young and old. The Oregon Women’s Caucus of Art was a major sponsor of the project.

A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability and Art showed at PRESENTspace, 939 NW Glisan in Portland’s Pearl district from July 7 through July 30, 2011.

— Posted on 08/15 at 02:26 PM

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