Catherine Miller, a native Oregonian, is a painter who strives to touch humankind. Her delight in people was nurtured early at Metropolitan Learning Center (MLC), a community oriented K-12 public school. Years later, Miller came to understand that what and how she learned at MLC would apply to her work in a fringe fine art medium called “social practice art,” which could be described as an art form marked by the defining characteristic of community, with its meaning not located in a end product, but rather in experience. After receiving a BFA in painting, Miller began creating work where the focus of the projects became less about painting and drawing and more about people. In late summer 2009, Miller took a trip using only public transportation from Portland, Oregon to Canada. In this work Miller documented every person she met along the way. Miller called the “event” “To Canada and Back Without a Map.”
Shortly thereafter, Miller found employment with the Disability Art and Culture Project (DACP) as Assistant to the Artistic Director. She learned about disability culture, local and international disability artists and advocacy through art for people with disabilities. She came to recognize that in the process of maturing as an artist, she had distanced herself from both the blind and disability communities. Beginning to recognize the multitude of alignments and disconnections between the art world and disability culture, Miller imagined A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability and Art as a way to bring together communities to work towards breaking the bonds of cultural restriction that she experiences as a legally blind artist.
Job Mission: Artistic/Project Director and Fine Arts Curator
Miller will act as Artistic/Project Director and Fine Arts Curator for her exhibition and book: “A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability and Art.” As Artistic Director, Miller will control the branding and core design concepts of the exhibition and book, and communicate those concerns to a graphic designer, and partnering organization. She will guide the conceptual development for all facets of the show and book. As Project Director, Miller will organize and guide a panel to explore the place of disability and art. She will create tactics for advertising, organize timelines, lead meetings, manage all applications, provide leadership and create plans for funding. She will write and be responsible for the grants and evaluations/project reports. As Fine Arts Curator, Miller will evaluate the applications, selecting twelve artists and works, and facilitate final selections of performers and writers.
Helen Healy Biography
Helen Healy was born in Australia and moved to the United States in her mid twenties. She has been a resident of Portland, Oregon for 30 years. Healy has an able-bodied and disabled-bodied global perspective. Helen has been a paraplegic for the last 14 years. Before Healy lived in Portland, she traveled through Southeast and Fareast Asia and spent two years living and working in Japan. She has traveled through Central and South America. Her greatest love is reading. She feels that to read widely opens the door to understanding oneself, others and the world around us. She has also worked as a volunteer with people with disabilities with an emphasis on assisting the blind in their homes with daily chores such as reading bills and organizing clothing and food. What she hopes to bring to this project is a deep understanding and appreciation for literature and knowledge that no disability or societal constraints can stop a person from creating art and sharing it with others.
Job Mission: Literary Curator
Helen Healy will act as the Literary Curator, wherein she will review Literature Applications. She will select twelve writers in total. Healy will select one of each essays, fiction, and poetry writers to represent each of the following four curation categories: 1) Literature by artists with disabilities which does not necessarily directly discuss or represent the larger concept of disability; 2) Literature that discusses or represents the disabled body/mind in subject matter or through artistic practice; 3) Literature that is by artists both with and without disabilities that discusses or represents disability pride or disability culture; 4) Literature by artists without disabilities that discusses or represents the sociopolitical nature of disability in contemporary culture and/or utilizes cultural artifacts of disability culture. She will write a short explanation about her selected works. She will communicate findings during her review process to Catherine Miller, Artistic and Project Director/Fine Arts Curator, so that Miller may assist in leading the exploration and research associated with Healy’s curation.
Alyson Osborn Biography
Alyson Osborn is extremely active in the arts community, working with such diverse groups as PICA, the Disability Pride Art and Culture Festival, Portland Art Museum, Jewish Theatre Collaborative, Portland Opera, Well Arts, the Multnomah Arts Center and Willamette Radio Workshop, a group which performs original audio material for shows both in studio and at live venues. As a stage actor, she has more 60 productions to her credit; favorite roles include Laura in Glass Menagerie at Willamette Repertory Theatre and Estella in Great Expectations at New Rose Theatre. As an audio describer, Alyson has worked on over 25 shows in the Portland area since 2001. She is a founding member of PlayWrite Inc, an in-school creative writing program dedicated to helping young people create theatre pieces based on their life stories. In addition to theatre, dance and children’s art, she teaches English, frequently incorporating improvisation and drama into traditional classroom settings as a way to reinforce ESL programs.
Alyson identifies as someone with the “hidden disabilities” of depression and ADD, and proudly serves on the board of the Arts Access Project for the Oregon Arts Commission. As someone who began working in Special Ed back when children with disabilities were sometimes forced to go to separate schools just for basic education, and mainstreaming was a novel idea endorsed by only a few, she is especially delighted to be a part of this groundbreaking creative endeavor.
Job Mission: Audio Description, Reader, and Performing Arts Curator
In April 2011 Alyson Osborn will collaborate with Catherine Miller to write short descriptions of 12 artworks, 12 portraits of writers, four images of performing artists, and possibly up to three diagrams/images that will be featured in the art book, “A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability and Art.” In April and May, Osborn will be recorded reading the book and descriptions. The recording may take place at Pacific Northwest College of Art as efforts are being made to succor sponsorship through the use of their radio and recording lab. Otherwise, recording will take place either at Miller’s personal recording studio, or at one of the commercial studios Osborn has previously worked with, where studio time will be donated.
Additionally, Osborn will act as the Performing Arts Curator, wherein she will review Performance Art Applications, selecting four performance artists to represent each of the following four categories: 1) Performing Art by artists with disabilities which does not discuss or represent the larger concept of disability; 2) Performing Art that discusses or represents the disabled body/mind in subject matter or through artistic practice; 3) Performing Art that is by artists both with and without disabilities that is disability pride art. 4) Performing Art by artists without disabilities that utilizes cultural artifacts of disability culture. She will write a short explanation about the selected works, communicating her findings during her review process to Catherine Miller, Artistic and Project Director/Fine Arts Curator, so that Miller may assist in leading the exploration and research associated with the pieces.
Heather Birdsong Biography
Heather Birdsong currently lives and works in Portland, Oregon as a multi-media fine artist and, for the last three years, as gallery coordinator for OTWAU exhibition space at Utrecht. She has experience as a reader for the blind, and worked as a volunteer advocate on behalf of the Rape Crisis Center of Southern Nevada.
She began her higher education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She was drawn to the humanities and liberal arts, and in her first women’s studies class, came across the performance artist Mary Duffy. Though Duffy’s work, Heather began to see artwork as something that could make change in society. Her interest in the human condition in the context of culture inspired her to become a women’s studies major. After spending two years in that program, she decided to pursue a fine art practice and transferred to the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, where she graduated with a BFA in December 2010.
Heather has shown work in nine exhibitions, three of which were solo shows. Her first solo show was inspired by her work as an advocate against sexual abuse and dealt directly with themes of overcoming obstacles and the importance of self-definition in the face of adversity. She sees all of her work as dealing with interactions between the individual self and pattern behavior.
Job Mission: Gallery Coordinator/Application Assistant
Heather Birdsong will act as Gallery Coordinator, wherein she will help organize and execute details of the exhibition as an assistant to the Fine Arts Curator. This entails making certain that applications are complete, submitted on time and reviewed. She will also make sure that each artist’s statement is completed and appropriately collated. She will help organize the layout and grouping of the work as required to execute the Art Director’s design plan to emphasize the four categories of work set forth in the proposal.
As an Application Assistant, she will be available to help artists and writers complete application materials, reviewing requests for application assistance forms and making sure that applicants receive information in the manner that they need throughout the application process and throughout the exhibition. If needed, she will write biographies, artist’s statements, and fill out applications.
Beth Omansky, Ph.D. Biography
Beth Omansky is legally blind. In most situations, Omansky considers this her primary identity because this is how society most readily perceives and identifies her. Omansky claims this status as a matter of fact.
As a sociologist, author, disability studies scholar and community activist, Omansky is deeply immersed in the examination of how the concept of disability is thought about and acted upon by society, including education and social policy, the workplace, medicine and rehabilitation. Omansky has a keen interest in how literature and the media portray disability and disabled people. Omansky writes “I bypassed the visual arts in the mistaken belief it was inaccessible to me as a blind person; that is, until I met Catherine Miller several years ago. Catherine and her work taught me the importance of visual imagery as both metaphorical and literal tools, which can be political, social, or purely aesthetic representations of the disability experience. When done with universality in mind, visual imagery can be made accessible to blind people. I am profoundly moved by this new knowledge, and through my relationship with Catherine. I have come to understand her own lived experience in a sharper, fuller way.”
As a participant in this project, Omansky will add her theoretical knowledge, practical experience, and writing skills to enhance Catherine’s work, and to help the project to fruition. Omansky writes “I am looking forward to this project’s final product, as it will bring a unique perspective to disability art and literature. I feel privileged to be a part of this endeavor.”
Job Mission: Back Jacket Copy Writer
Omansky will write the back jacket copy for “A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability and Art.”
Zaneta Taylor Biography
Zaneta Taylor is a Portland resident and practicing graphic designer, who has made the abandonment of certainty the primary focus of her design work. As a freelance graphic designer, she has made it a point to find design challenges/problems that are rooted in social behavior. Her past projects include an ad campaign for EndureMS, as well as the Green Dot Initiative, which are both geared toward awareness and the correction of social behavior. Her belief is “An epoch that calls everything to question is one that opens new avenues for people who want to experiment. If everything is uncertain, than everything is possible.”
She began working in design in 2006 for an Italian publication house under the subdivision of International Memories. She then entered a year of studies at Texas Tech University for Communication Design. She later transferred to Parsons the New School for design, and eventually wound up at the Pacific Northwest College of Art where she will be completing her degree in Communication design.
Design with a social conscience and design that is based around inclusion have long since been at the forefront of her design work and continue to inform the dialogue.
Job Mission: Graphic Designer
As Graphic Designer through 2012, Zaneta Taylor will take the creative and artistic direction of Catherine Miller and translate it into a visual language. She will be tasked with creating a publication. In designing the book she will have to take into account its accessibility, ensuring that it is designed with the disabled in mind. Aside from the design element of the book, she will be in charge of preparing all documents for print and overseeing with Miller the proper production of the book. If necessary, she will also design promotional materials for both the exhibition and book.
Graphic Designer Jim Hill will take on design of the book in 2012.