Elevating Artists with Disabilities

Creators and Curators in Conversation

Modern interior of a white building with long ramp leading to higher level. Photo by Stefan Spassov on Unsplash.

Event Description:  What opportunities exist (or could be created) for artists with disabilities to showcase our work, highlight what we do, share our perspective, and find connections and communities? What makes a cultural space more effective and inclusive when working with disabled artists? Join us for a conversation-driven Lunch & Learn where artists and cultural administrators share experiences and hopes for inclusive curation practices, accessible spaces, artist support, and sustainability through small breakout groups. Audience participation is highly encouraged as we share ideas and innovate on breaking down barriers!

This event has ended. To ensure a safe and intimate space, the event was not recorded. 

Archived Event Speakers

Room 1

Bianca Xunise is an illustrator, writer, and educator based out of Chicago, Illinois. With two Ignatz Awards under their belt, Bianca’s storytelling primarily focuses on the joys and plights of being black in the 21st century. Bianca enjoys being a voice for those who march to the beat of their own drum and hopes that their comics are comforting to those who feel like they don’t fit in. In 2020, Bianca became the first nationally syndicated non-binary cartoonist (and the second black woman) when they joined the comic strip Six Chix in 2020 as their first black creator. Xunise has also collaborated with Vogue, The Washington Post, The Nib, and Believer Magazine. When Bianca isn’t doodling away, they are usually at an underground DIY punk show dancing with friends by the Chicago riverside. Their debut graphic novel Punk Rock Karaoke (Penguin Teen) comes out in April 2024, critics are already calling it: “Incredibly grounded in its neighborhood and scene, this is a great ride from start to finish.” — Booklist

Esther Grisham Grimm’s career-long work in the arts encompasses museum and arts education, administration, and philanthropy. For 23 years, she has served as the Executive Director of 3Arts, a nonprofit grantmaking and arts service organization that supports artists in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area, with a focus on women artists, artists of color, and Deaf and disabled artists. Prior to that, she was the Assistant Director of Museum Education in charge of Teacher Services at The Art Institute of Chicago. She is a writer and editor, flute player, equine therapy volunteer, and a leadership coach for National Arts Strategies. She serves on the Chicago Arts Council and as Co-Chair of the American Friends of the Vienna Museum Board of Directors.


Room 2

David A. Holt (b. 1984) expressed an early interest in music, romance and celebrities through his artwork as a member of Chicago’s Gallery 37, an after-school job-training program in the arts. In 2009, with the death of his grandmother, Holt turned his attention to obituaries, or “memorial portraits” of important persons. His canvas painting and drawings on cardboard are direct and show his sense of immediacy – he begins to work as soon as obituaries are posted and drawings are typically finished in one day.

A Virgo, Holt gives special mention to any celebrity in the Virgo-Cancer Club, a syndicate of his own making to honor some of his closest friends and family. This special club, together with the crowd of celebrity images that surround him, expresses Holt’s strong value in community and in creating connections. In an ironic twist, it is celebrity that seems to draw disparate peoples and strangers together through shared interests, music, and film. His work relies heavily on memory and association, as well as connectedness through current events and social media.

Holt is active participant in Special Olympics programming in softball, basketball, and weight lifting. He was recently interviewed for an article in the Chicago Sun-Times featuring his artwork, and is active in the autism advocacy community. Holt joined Project Onward in 2006 and currently lives in the South Chicago neighborhood.

Project Onward staff members Michelle Curtin and Robyn Jablonski also joined David in conversation.


Room 3

Barak adé Soleil (they + he) is an award-winning contemporary artist, independent curator, and thinker who has been working professionally since 1991. Barak’s creative practice draws from traditions of the African diaspora, queerness, disability culture, access aesthetics and postmodernism. Barak is the founder of D UNDERBELLY, an interdisciplinary network of artists of color, and among various acknowledgements is the recipient of the prestigious Katherine Dunham Choreography award, and awards through Jerome, 3Arts, McKnight and Art Matters Foundations. Presentations of creative work include: from here to there for 2018 exhibition Chicago Disability Activism, Arts & Design, 1970’s to Today at Gallery 400; and a series of movements for both the 2018 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art (Tkaronto) and VAE’s Everyday Series at Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh, North Carolina. Presently based in Minnesota, Barak works globally; engaging with distinct communities across Turtle Island, Europe and Africa.


Room 4

Ariella Granados is a multidisciplinary artist based in Chicago, IL. whose work utilizes video, sound, costuming, make up, and sculpture to explore the liminal space between fiction and truth. Their work integrates green as a signifier of rendering the disabled body against the complexity of the sociopolitical landscape. Granados’ work is intertwined with the consumer’s inability to not be fully satisfied with the consumption of commodities. Utilizing dynamic world building techniques they critique the body as a commodity itself, offering her own lived experience as a bicultural person. Through their work, Granados invites the viewer into a world where they must confront questions of agency and authenticity.

Granados holds a BFA from The University of Illinois at Chicago. They were a 2023 3Arts/Bodies of Work Residency artist and an inaugural artist in residence with DCASE and The Mayors Office for People with Disabilities.

Zhen Heinemann (/ʒ/ – en) is an audience-focused arts and immersive experience engineer whose work centers on creating more accessible, inclusive and inviting spaces and engagements for communities and individuals. Currently they are the Director of Visitor Experience & Public Engagement with the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, creating and managing engagement spaces in the Chicago Cultural Center, consulting on guest-facing items in Millennium Park and at Taste of Chicago and created an Accessibility Plan for adding access initiatives across all divisions of DCASE. They have over 15 years experience in public programming development, community engagement, production management and design. They hold a CPACC (Certificated Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies) Certification from IAPP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals) and are a member of the Disability Lead Network.