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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Disability Culture Art Display Opens in Lauinger Library

The Disability Cultural Center (DCC), the department of art and art history and the Georgetown University Library jointly hosted the opening reception of an art exhibit on Oct. 11.

The exhibit, titled “Celebrating Disability Culture at Georgetown,” showcases artwork, writing, digital designs and 3D creations from students who identify as disabled in celebration of the first Disability Cultural Awareness Month since the DCC’s recent establishment this semester. 

Located on the second floor of Lauinger Library, the exhibit combines work from two of the DCC’s previous events, “ACDC: Art Celebrating Disability Culture” and “Ramping Up Access.” These events are part of the university’s efforts to recognize the disability community and culture present on campus.

The artwork on display varies in medium and explores themes of movement, blindness, access, trauma and joy. Marissa Nissley (MSB ’24), author of the featured poem “Dear Future Blind Girl,” said that she was inspired to write the piece after learning about another young girl who was learning to navigate the world while simultaneously losing her sight. This included obtaining an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), a document which ensures disabled students can have appropriate support from the school. 

“There was a girl in middle school at exactly the same place I went to who was starting to go blind, and my mom was telling me about how she was trying to help the family, giving them my IEPs and stuff from when I was a kid,” Nissley told The Hoya. 

“And it really started to hit me, like ‘What would I have wanted to know at 13 that I know now?’ And that’s what inspired me to write the poem,” Nissley added.

Additional written works displayed at the exhibit include “Accessible Love” by Angelene Leija (CAS ’23)  and “Tu” by Briana Valle (CAS ’23). Both pieces discuss the lens through which people with disabilities navigate relationships. 

The exhibit also includes digital art like Dane Tedder’s (CAS ’24) print, which illustrates a group of hands holding up a heart, and Kelvin Kafu Doe’s (CAS ’23) animation of the earth’s seasons cycling, synchronized to a person’s movement.

Beth Marhanka, head of outreach and engagement at Lauinger Library, said that inspiration for the exhibit originated when a Lego ramp, which was built last year in a collaborative effort led by the DCC to showcase the importance of accessibility, was placed in the library. 

“We decided to put it on the second floor and then started looking around saying, ‘Let’s do more,’” Marhanka told The Hoya. “Just having the ramp around, this is lovely, but is there other art that could enhance this exhibit and attract people to it and tell even more of a story and showcase more work?”

Beth Marhanka, Lauinger Library's head of outreach and engagement, Em Aufuldish of the art and art history department and Amy Kenny, director of the Disability Cultural Center, stand in front of the ACDC exhibit during its Oct. 11 opening reception.
Georgetown University | The Disability Cultural Center (DCC), the Department of Art and Art History and the Georgetown University Library hosted the opening of a disability culture art exhibit on Oct. 11.

Amy Kenny, director of the DCC, said that the opportunity to collaborate with the library has been particularly impactful because of its centrality to campus art and culture.

“The library is a cultural hub,” Kenny told The Hoya. “It’s exciting to partner with the library and the department of art and art history to celebrate what all three of our centers really care about and are invested in, which is celebrating disability culture and community.”

The opening reception included a discussion of how Lauinger Library can be made more accessible in the future, as well as the library administrators’ recent project to obtain student input on what changes they would like to see in Lau.  

Marhanka said that event exemplifies the library’s broader commitment to serving as an accessible space on campus.

“We need to make sure that everyone has access to all resources on campus and we feel particularly strongly about that in the library,” said Marhanka. “We want the library to be a welcoming place, and for me, providing artwork makes the environment more welcoming and beautiful, and it inspires people to do their best work.”

Kenny said that she is excited for students to interact with the exhibit and see tangible results of the work that the DCC does on campus. 

“I hope students get to experience the vibrancy and creativity of the disability community and are encouraged to participate in DCC events,” Kenny said.

The university will continue to celebrate the rest of Disability Cultural Awareness Month with programming like “ACDC: Art Celebrating Disability Culture,” “Chaplain’s Tea with the Disability Cultural Center” and “Mayor Muriel Bowser Presents the 2023 Disability Tech Summit.”

Nissley said the exhibit will inspire students and members of the disability community by delving deeper into the nuances of what it means to be disabled, rather than stopping the conversation at accessibility accommodations. 

“I think it’s really valuable to show the artistic and creative inputs of this part of the Georgetown community, that it’s more than just a medical issue and that it’s something that people can take pride in,” Nissley said.

This article was updated on Oct. 23, 2023 to change the featured photograph, add hyperlinks and make a factual correction regarding an artwork.

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