Disability Culture Leadership Initiative

Kris Lenzo (2017 Fellow), a white man seated in a wheelchair, leads a movement class to a crowded room in front of a large projection screen paused with the title of the film, Ripped. The audience is seated in a semicircle around Kris and his collaborator, Sarah Cullen Fuller, as everyone lifts one arm out to the side with their elbow bent at a ninety-degree angle.
Image: Kris Lenzo and Sarah Cullen Fuller lead a discussion and movement class for the film, Ripped, as part of “IN/MOTION: Chicago’s International Dance Film Festival.”
Photo by Alison Kopit, 2017.

Beginning in 2020, 3Arts and Bodies of Work set about to increase our advocacy efforts by launching the Disability Culture Leadership Initiative (DCLI), a multilayered project involving the production of videotaped conversations and a convening with eleven artists who had participated in our 3Arts Residency Fellowships at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

After six years of offering customized residency fellowships for Deaf and disabled artists, we wanted to document what some have called “a Chicago model” of disability aesthetics at this moment in time, promote the art of Deaf and disabled artists to the field, and encourage the inclusion of Disability Culture in equity work.

Below, you will find four discipline-based video conversations in which artists reflect on their experiences in the fellowship program, Chicago’s disability community, and the arts field in general. We invite you to learn more about the fellowship program, the program’s alumni, and the newest fellows whose conversations will be added to this page in the coming year.

The videos feature onscreen captions and American Sign Language interpretation. To access audio described versions, please visit this page on the 3Arts YouTube channel.


Part 1: On Stage

Justin Cooper in conversation with dance artists:

Part 2: On Representation

Justin Cooper in conversation with theater artists:

Part 3: On Aesthetics

Justin Cooper in conversation with multidisciplinary artists:

Part 4: On Modeling

Justin Cooper in conversation with visual artists:
pooja pittie profile image

"Disability is what allowed me to accept myself as an artist. When people tell me that my story is inspirational, this is where I want to direct them. That it's more about accepting who you are."
- Pooja Pittie

ginger lane profile image

"What’s critically important is finding our own authentic voice in what we want to communicate, what we want to say, and not be held to somebody else’s standard."
- Ginger Lane

matt bodett profile image

"We live in a historic moment where being accepting of one's body and disability, in and of itself, is activism."
- Matt Bodett

For additional background on the origin, evolution, and future vision of our fellowship program, we invite you to read our DCLI lookback report, written by Carrie Sandahl and Esther Grisham Grimm, with research assistance by Maggie Bridger. We intend this to be a living document where we will share additional learnings about disability art and culture. 

Read the report

The 3Arts Residency Fellowships at UIC and the Disability Culture Leadership Initiative are supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts to 3Arts and a grant from The Joyce Foundation.

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