Open and Shut Case explores human rights through art

Human rights open doors. Doors of opportunity. Doors of change. At least that’s the hope. Or maybe “human rights” is just a vague concept? What are human rights really worth to someone with a developmental disability? Those questions will be partially answered 1-3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 3 when a new interactive art exhibit goes on display in St. Paul’s Newell Park. Newell Park is at the southeast corner of Fairview Avenue North and Pierce Butler Route.

Advocating Change Together (ACT), Self Advocates Minnesota (SAM) and Remembering With Dignity (RWD) present “Open and Shut Case,” a new, participatory exhibit about human rights by artists with developmental disabilities. The exhibit and interactive game on human rights will teach visitors about the artists’ human rights. Visitors may learn more about their own views during the event.

The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. Come see the exhibit and help SAM members in their work to educate about human rights and change the public’s image of disability.

“The project had two equally important goals,” said Halle O’Falvey, RWD organizer and teaching artist for the exhibit. “We’re educating society about human rights and the power for these artists. We’re also providing an opportunity for the people with developmental disabilities to see themselves as artists, period.”

Besides the art pieces, the exhibit will have another component: a fun game that mimics the popular television game show “Family Feud.” The game will have a human rights theme. Members of the public will be able to step up and compare their knowledge of human rights against the ideas of the artists. Winners will receive prizes.

View the art and meet the artists starting at 1 p.m. The game starts at 1:30 p.m. The event ends at 3 p.m. with a ceremony celebrating disability rights and the 2007 Human Rights Convention on Persons with Disabilities

“Open and Shut Case” offers new art created by people with developmental disabilities who are members of SAM, a statewide network of self-advocacy groups. The artists got together last year and began brainstorming a way to portray the impact of human rights.

“I see myself as a good artist now,” said New Ulm resident Mike J. Kastner. He is a member of the SAM Leadership Circle.

The group focused on the 2007 United Nations human rights convention, zeroing in on a dozen key rights and principles. Members of ACT and SAM were in New York for this convention and participated. “It was awesome, amazing, and productive” said a SAM member. 

The artists worked with eight guiding principles of human rights. One is respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons. Another is non-discrimination and a third is full and effective participation and inclusion in society.

Other principles are respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity, equality of opportunity, accessibility, equality between men and women and respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities

O’Falvey proposed the idea of image of doors, closed doors and open doors. The open doors represent opportunity, and closed doors represent lack of rights. Doors are about transition. There is a lot of change during transition. The ideas of people with disabilities have basic human rights, like to chose where they want to live, will take society a long time to embrace and accept.

The proposal was accepted and the work began. A two-day workshop was developed and an art installation with closed and open doors was born. Each artist came from one of the six SAM regions in the State of Minnesota. Self-Advocates from the Leadership Circle had to apply to be part of the project.

At the workshop each artists chose their own right; one that spoke to them was about how they live their lives. And the brainstorming began, breaking down those rights and principals to basic interactions. It reflected how they live day to day. It reflected what these rights mean to them as people who live with disabilities. When that was done the group created the art installation.

“I love doing art. It makes me feel good about myself, and I know I can do it. I want to do more art projects,” said Carla Webster-Norman, a SAM Leadership Circle member from St. Paul.

“Open and Shut Case has been an inspiring, energizing effort,” said O’Falvey, who also developed and curated RWD’s 2009 art project, “SEE THEIR FACE.” “It is a very important aspect of life; this art thing,” she said. “It must be included in our lives to appreciate the beauty and luster surrounding us every day, especially in these turbulent times. It improves our critical thinking, our problem solving, our big picture view, so, we see, we notice, we observe.”

RWD works to highlight and celebrate the lives of people with disabilities who lived and died in the Minnesota State institutions. “We turn numbers to names,” said Carol Robinson when describing RWD’s work to convert numbered grave markers to proper headstones.

ACT is a St. Paul-based, non-profit disability rights organization. It is run by and for people with developmental disabilities and other disabilities.

For more information on the event, contact O’Falvey at 651-641-0297 or rwd@selfadvocacy.org

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