Arts Access, North Carolina’s only non-profit dedicated to making the arts accessible to people with disabilities, will host a collection of artistic showcases titled A Series of Fortunate Events throughout the month of May. The series’ Honorary Chair is First Lady of North Carolina Kristin Cooper, herself a patron and participant in the local arts.

The showcases feature works of visual art, music, theater, literature and film. Each of the five shows address the perspectives of artists living with disabilities, with the mission of reclaiming the narrative so often misconstrued and portrayed by people who do not have disabilities, says Betsy Ludwig, executive director of Arts Access.

“I think oftentimes when you see images of people with disabilities, it’s either to evoke sympathy or inspiration,” she says.

“I hope these events break down stereotypes of what it means to experience life with a disability, and [enable people to] hear more individual stories told through a creative medium. I think that’s what art, music and literature is great for, telling people’s stories.”

The VIP kick-off event on May 4 at VAE Raleigh begins with a sneak preview of “ULTRALIGHT,” an exhibition of artists living with disabilities taking back the narrative of life with a disability. The exhibit also addresses the theme of barriers, in terms of physical access, communication and attitude. The goal of the exhibition is “to take back the narrative that is so often controlled by the medical field, media and stereotypes,” according to VAE’s website. The show is juried by Ruth Gould, a deaf artist and artistic director of DaDaFest in Liverpool, UK. Kristin Cooper will also speak at the event.

When reviewing the artist submissions for “ULTRALIGHT,” VAE Executive Director Brandon Cordrey, who is also president of the board of Arts Access, noticed a trend. “I do think it’s interesting that when people without disabilities depict life with a disability, it’s often very realistic, often a lot of imagery of people in wheelchairs and people who are blind, but I didn’t really see a lot of that in the work that was submitted by artists with disabilities,” he says. “People didn’t elect to depict the actual disability so much, and if they did, it was more representational than realistic.”

Following the kick-off event is a reading by authors R.V. Kuser, who has autism; Kelly Bouldin Darmofal, who has a traumatic brain injury; and Megan Cutter and Barton Cutter, who has cerebral palsy. A discussion of their books and what it means to write your own narrative as a person living with disabilities will follow. The discussion will be moderated by Piedmont Laureate Mimi Herman. The series also includes an intimate musical performance by Chris Hendricks, a singer/songwriter living with cerebral palsy, which will take place at accessibility advocate Alex McArthur’s home.

At Raleigh Little Theatre, a variety show featuring a group of established and emerging actors will present works of musical theater, comedy and Shakespeare. Finally, the Cary Theater will have a special screening of “Tommy! The Dreams I Keep Inside Me,” a documentary about a man named Tommy, who has autism, as he tries to break into the jazz music industry. The screening will conclude with a performance by Tommy himself.

Individual event tickets range from $10 to $20. A series ticket that permits access to all five events, including the VIP kick-off with Kristin Cooper, is $40. Tickets can be purchased here. Visit fortunateevents.org for more information.

A Series of Fortunate Events

VIP Kick-off reception
When: Thursday, May 4, 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: VAE Raleigh / 309 W Martin Street
What: Sneak peak of “ULTRALIGHT,” plus a meet and greet with the artists, comments from the exhibition’s curator and Honorary Chair and First Lady of North Carolina, Kristin Cooper.

Authors reading
When: Sunday, May 7, 2 to 4 p.m.
Where: United Arts Council / 410 Glenwood Ave #170
What: Authors R.V Kuser, Kelly Bouldin Darmofal, Barton and Megan Cutter will discuss their books, and what it means to write your own narrative as a person living with disabilities. This discussion will be moderated by Piedmont Laureate, Mimi Herman.

Concert
When: Thursday, May 11, 7 to 9 p.m.
Where: The Paramount / 618 N Boylan Avenue
What: A house concert featuring North Carolina native, singer songwriter, Chris Hendricks will perform a house concert in the home of local accessibility advocate, Alex McArthur.

Theatre showcase
When: Monday, May 22, 7 to 9 p.m.
Where: Raleigh Little Theater / 301 Pogue Street
What: A survey of theatrical performances featuring artists with disabilities who range in age and performance style. This showcase will include Shakespeare, musical theatre, and comedy.

Film screening
When: Wednesday, May, 31, 7 to 9 p.m.
Where: The Cary Theater / 122 E Chatham Street
What: A screening of “Tommy! The Dreams I Keep Inside Me.” Directed by Rodrigo Dorfman this documentary follows Tommy’s journey, the film takes you into his community of adults with autism, the world of jazz musicians, his ups and downs, his work, his quirks and even his dirty laundry. Watch the trailer.

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