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Art Installation Brings Awareness to Accessibility on Campus

 Has a bright orange wheelchair caught your attention on the way to your classes, the library or even in your dorm building?

   Two students in the ephemeral arts course on campus taught by Yvonne Wu, have created their own installation art to demonstrate inaccessibility around campus by placing an old wheelchair in various locations around campus that are inaccessible spaces to those in wheelchairs. 

   Anna Downing’22, Studio Art and Environmental Biology double major and Kristin Larson’22, Studio Art and Education double major have been working over the course of two weeks on their installation art project which consists of placing an eye-catching orange wheelchair in spaces that are inaccessible for individuals in wheelchairs. 

   Ephemeral Art is “art that can not be created in the same way again, that is also not preserved,” said Larson. “When you think of traditional art there’s a lot of work that goes into preserving it so that it lasts but ephemeral art is kind of here for the moment and then it’s gone,” Larson added. 

   Downing and Larson were assigned to do two ephemeral art projects, this being their second project. When first being assigned the project, Larson, who uses a wheelchair, was hesitant to pursue the project further as she “didn’t want to step on any toes.” 

   She was motivated by thinking of the positive change to come as a result of it. As they discussed colors to spray paint the chair, red was one of the first ideas thrown out there but felt it was too aggressive and didn’t accurately represent the kinds of discussions the two hoped for people to have. A fluorescent orange was agreed upon as it would alarm people and draw attention to the piece opening a door to a discussion on inaccessibility.

   Though Beloit College is known for being a diverse campus, Larson said there is a “missed opportunity” when it comes to the disabled population.

   “When you think of college campuses as a whole, only 34% of people who use wheelchairs graduate from a four year college,” Larson said. “A lot of that has to do with maybe not feeling like it is fully accessible or maybe some isolation. And sometimes that isolation can come from shared spaces that are intended for community being inaccessible,” Larson continued. 

   Their hopes for the project was for people to come upon their installation, hoping for it to lead into discussion on accessibility on campus relating that to other spaces able-bodied individuals have access to in their day-to-day lives. 

   The first location of the wheelchair was placed at the entrance stairs of the World Affairs Center (WAC) on campus. Faculty took pictures of the installation, later posting it on a Facebook group which received a lot of positive feedback with faculty left wondering who was behind the piece. 

   Each location had a special meaning. The first location, WAC, was a barrier to education, or opportunity to lose another language. The second location was the sunken garden located near the greenhouse. This was a space where people came together but due to the inaccessibility there is no way for a person in a wheelchair to be part of that community. Larson describes it almost as “on the outside looking in.”

   At Mayer Hall the doors are very heavy which takes away the person using the wheelchair autonomy as someone will have to help assist them getting into the building.

   In the dorms, the wheelchair was put in the Blaisdell residence halls. Other students who also use wheelchairs have talked about the barrier of socializing as they can not access spaces where parties are thrown in buildings. 

   The purpose of placing the wheelchair at it’s next stop, the library, was due to the inaccessible use of tables and chairs for those in wheelchairs as those spaces have chairs attached to the table, leaving no room for a wheelchair to be placed. 

   At its final location, the Wright Studio was chosen due to an experience Larson had in her intro to drawing and design course where it was the first time she experienced not being able to use a space on campus. The drawing studio’s only entrance was up the stairs. 

   In the process of spray painting the wheelchair, Larson had broken the nozzle and had to come up with another way to use it. Larson talked about how this was a good representation of someone in a wheelchair and how they have to be adaptable to different situations. 

   A larger goal Downing and Larson hope come from this project is for faculty and administration to prioritize making buildings accessible to those who use wheelchairs as well as keeping this in mind when looking at grants and layouts for new buildings or modifications. The hope for students is for those to keep in mind how we can be more accessible to diverse communities when they go out into the world.

   The wheelchair installation can be seen again from Nov. 29 – Dec. 3 in the south gallery of the Wright museum where other projects done by students in the Ephemeral Arts class will be displayed.

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