By Meng Wei
The 2018 roof collapse of the Fairview Arena, directly attached to the centre’s current facility, induced a series of discussions and collaboration between Indefinite Arts and celebrated Calgary-based mixed ability dance company Momo Movement with incredible synergy—a long-waited chance for Jung Suk (JS) Ryu, the President and CEO of the NaAC,to finally bring together something that was meant to be in one unity.
Throughout 2020, the organization formerly known as the Indefinite Arts Centre—already Canada’s largest and oldest disability arts organization—entered into conversations with Momo Movement and another disability arts organization, Artistic Expressions, to envision a more streamlined and accessible arts environment for Calgarians and Canadians living with disabilities. And in November 2020, the three organizations combined forces to become the National accessArts Centre.
“Can we have one organization that opens up a multidisciplinary opportunity for artists to be able to create and move between disciplines, and really expand their creative horizons through that sort of unified structure, unified organization?”
JS started thinking about this idea when he first came on board with the organization in 2017. Now, this idea has turned into reality with Canada’s first multidisciplinary disability arts organization.
Since 2018, from exhibitions in major cities including Dubai, Hong Kong, Seoul, New York, and Guadalajara, to having artists’ works now be a part of the permanent collection of the Government of Canada’s foreign affairs ministry, what the NaAC’s artists have accomplished is remarkable.
In 2020, NaAC had a banner year—more than doubling its fundraising goal—based on its relentless commitment to and confidence in its community of extremely talented artists. This made it possible for the organization to push even further, letting its artists fully explore their potential, expanding beyond visual arts, to performing arts and other disciplines—even during the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.
That increase in programming also allowed them to do even more and to follow through on those ambitions to provide world-class programming.
“Our community deserves nothing but the best constantly at all times,” JS says.
And the support of the community doesn’t stop at providing the artists with professional careers. It has become the lifeline for many of them, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic created acute situations of social distancing and isolation.
“An artist had written to me and said the person who delivered our artist supply kit was the first person that he had seen in weeks,” JS recalled an email after a few weeks into the shutdown.
To date, the NaAC has delivered more than 3,500 artist supply kits—named flux kits after the fluxus art movement—to their artists, and continues to facilitate and support the needs of its artist community, through daily online studio sessions, as well as using more traditional forms of communication—including letter writing and phone calls.
“We need to move away from the mindset that our community needs this kind of support simply to be kept busy and occupied,” says JS. “Through our work and the incredible support we’ve received, the NaAC is proving to our community— and to the world—that it has tremendous creative potential.”
With a vision of a society where artists with disabilities are recognized and supported by all communities, Ryu hopes to see a day when the NaAC is no longer needed.
“When we have arts organizations as well as audiences understand and appreciate the incredible creative potential that people with disabilities have, when galleries and performing arts halls understand that they need to adapt in order to provide equitable opportunities and break down those barriers so that individuals with physical and developmental disabilities can bloom as artists in their own right… my gosh, that means that we would have done our job.”