“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” wrote Maya Angelou. This sentiment is at the heart of an exhibit produced by the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, with community engagement efforts from social work graduate student Liz Green. The Institute, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy will bring the all too often unheard stories of people with intellectual disabilities to City Hall March 4 – May 6.
Through a combination of photo portraits and audio recordings, the exhibit shares the narratives of Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities, aiming for empowerment through story telling. Part oral history project, part social justice effort, the exhibit, titled Here. Stories From Selinsgrove Center and Kencrest Services, is a collaborative effort of volunteers along with 19 adults with intellectual disabilities. Liz Green, a social work graduate student and community engagement specialist with the project, explains how the project captures what are often untold and unheard stories.
Over two months the volunteers recorded interviews with their narrators – adults with intellectual disabilities living in a state center – facilitating what Green describes as a sense of self advocacy. “We’re just starting a dialog in a place where it would’ve otherwise been hard to have a dialog between two separate communities that don’t interact very often.”
The exhibit had its first appearance in the main rotunda of the Capitol Building in Harrisburg last October. “When many of the narrators came to Harrisburg and saw their portraits and stories exhibited in the capital building, that was a really powerful experience for them,” says Green, noting that the impact of the exhibit went both ways. “While both their portrait and stories are being exhibited, we also added an interactive element to the exhibit where people can write a note that is mailed to the participants. What we found is that someone might look up and feel very connected to a story or an image of a person, and want to say something to that person.”
In addition to the exhibit, the Institute on Disabilities is producing a new play by theatre artist Suli Holum called A Fierce Kind of Love in April. An exploration of the intellectual disabilities movement, the play includes performances both from professional actors as well as people with intellectual disabilities acting for the first time. “There are a lot of different elements to this wider project,” says Green, “and the thing that connects them all is that it’s all based on the intellectual disability rights movement in Pennsylvania and on true stories from those communities.”
Here. Stories From Selinsgrove Center and Kencrest Services
Exhibit dates: March through May 2016
City Hall, Philadelphia
A Fierce Kind of Love
April 7, 8, 9, 10, and
April 14, 15, 16, 17
Christ Church Neighborhood House, Philadelphia
Thursday - Saturday performances: 7 p.m. - 9 p.m., including a post-performance discussion.
Sunday performances are 4 p.m. - 6 p.m., including a post-performance discussion.
A Fierce Kind of Love is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.