September 2007 - November 2007: Issue 24

From the Editor

Birthdays and Festivals

With this issue Opening Stages completes its sixth year of publication. We feel quite grown up, but not so cocky that we can't be open to constructive criticism. In fact, we are using this occasion to invite feedback from you, our readers, in the form of an electronic survey. Your answers will help guide our continued growth, and we welcome your participation.

As we have matured, so have disability arts. In the previous issue we pointed to the plethora of disability arts festivals taking place around the world. In this issue we narrow our focus to Independence Starts Here!, the month-long extravaganza of disability arts and culture that will be enlivening and enriching the city of Philadelphia this fall.

What does it mean for us as disabled artists to participate in festivals like this? Certainly these are celebrations. Certainly it feels good to get exposure for our work. Certainly we can be guaranteed supportive audiences and a sense of community.

But are we segregating ourselves? Are we reinforcing society's perception that we are different, with all of the negative stereotyping that implies? Do we still hunger for approval from the mainstream? Can we be separate but still equal?

We've probed the opinions of an internationally respected expert on disability arts and culture. But from a personal perspective, this festival participant's response to the last question is an emphatic yes. There's no reason why we can't still strive for excellence. There's no reason why we can't expect our audiences, whoever they are, to be perceptive and demanding. There's no reason why we can't invite the world to come to us.

Disability arts festivals have other benefits, too. Like any large-scale cultural events they have a significant economic impact. And money not only talks, it wins friends. Also, all the people with disabilities that attend a festival have requirements for access at participating venues, hotels, restaurants and any places they travel throughout the city that's hosting the festival. Their presence in large numbers can build awareness and lead to a friendlier, more hospitable environment. Further, many people with disabilities, who might for various reasons be hesitant about attending regular cultural events, will come out for these festivals in order for a change to enjoy the comfort and sense of power that derives from being the majority on the streets and in the audiences. This whets their appetite for culture, and they become our supporters and promoters.

So, our thanks to the people who do all the extremely hard work of putting these festivals together. In Philadelphia this includes our own Mimi Kenney Smith, co-chair of Independence Starts Here! and a member of our Opening Stages Editorial Board since we began.

And now we're seven, and who knows what opportunities this ever-changing world will offer to artists with disabilities.

Paul Kahn