View the Exhibit Online and Vote for Your Favorite! An Interview with Shay Kraley, ACTion Art
By Malcolm Wang
A few months ago, I submitted my artwork to the ACTion Art Exhibit in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ACTion Art began in 2009 as a way for artists with disabilities to share their work with the wider community. The annual exhibit is sponsored by Artists Creating Together (ACT), a nonprofit organization with many exciting programs.
Unfortunately, due to COVID 19, the 2020 ACTion Art Exhibit was cancelled and replaced with an online exhibit. It was originally scheduled for March 31-April 2, 2020 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s Education Center. Instead, the exhibit will be online. I decided to interview Shay Kraley, the program director at Artists Creating Together (ACT) so that more people learn about the exhibit and the great work that this organization is doing.
1. Tell me about the organization sponsoring the Action Art Exhibit.
Artists Creating Together (ACT) is a nonprofit organization that empowers individuals with disabilities to learn, grow, and celebrate through the arts. We provide art and creative expression programming for children, youth, and adults with disabilities. We hold classes in our art studio, in the schools, in hospitals and other health entities, and at a variety of community venues. We also have an amazing mobile art studio called the Creative Cube, which brings art into the community to make art as accessible as possible to everyone.
2. Can you give some examples of the types of programs offered by Artists Creating Together?
We offer a wide array of art opportunities for people with disabilities of all ages. We have a drum troupe called the Action Drummers and a choir called the ACTion Choir, who perform at a variety of community events. We offer high-quality visual and performing art classes year-round in our art studio. During the school year, we offer programming in the schools for Early Childhood all the way through transition-aged students (18-26 years old). We have Health & Healing art classes in the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, Metro Health Hospital, and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. Our mobile art studio, the Creative Cube, will be traveling around West Michigan, bringing accessible art opportunities to events all summer. We’re also starting a new program this summer where youth and their families can come to ACT for drop-in visual art activities inspired by Caldecott Medal-winning children’s books.
Most recently, we launched an online instructional series call “Stay Home & Stay Creative,” where our teaching artists provide short lessons to engage people of all ages and all abilities. You can find it on ACT’s YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/user/ACTinGR.
3. What is the purpose of the ACTion Art Exhibit?
ACTion Art is an annual exhibit that features the artwork of adult artists with disabilities in a professional gallery format. The exhibit provides a venue for the artists to market and sell their work within the larger community. This year, we have over 100 adult artists with disabilities who have submitted their artwork.
4. What is the connection between the ACTion Art Exhibit and the ArtPrize program?
During ACTion Art, I convene a small jury composed of artists and art experts from the local community. The jury views all the artwork together, and they are given a set of criteria with which to vote for their favorites. The top 3 are then considered the Jurors’ Choice Award winners and are sponsored by ACT to compete in ArtPrize. We pay for their ArtPrize registration fees, create marketing materials for them, and thanks to a generous partnership with the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, are able to use the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel as their ArtPrize venue. Because ArtPrize did not have a competition last year, we will be sponsoring 6 ACTion Art winners in ArtPrize this fall—three 2019 winners and our three 2020 winners.
5. What is the connection between the Action Art Exhibit and the Grand Rapids Art Museum?
The Grand Rapids Art Museum is another generous partner of ours. We typically hold our exhibit in their Education Center, which allows us to open the exhibit to the public in the beautiful GRAM space, while also utilizing their lower-level classroom to bring in special education school groups for field trips and to create art activities inspired by ACTion Art entries.
6. What has been the biggest success in the Action Art Exhibit?
There are so many successes to share! One of the biggest successes is how widely known ACTion Art has become. ACTion Art is in its 11th year and we have entrants from parts of the Midwest, in addition to statewide. We have many entrants who come from other disability organizations in Michigan, and many of our registered artists are students from the Kent Intermediate School District’s Community Transition Campus programming. ACTion Art artists also have varying disabilities, experiences with art, and preferred media, so we’re proud of the fact that we can exhibit a variety of beautiful artwork each year. And being able to show the talents and journeys of artists with disabilities to the broader community is so important.
7. What has been the biggest challenge for the ACTion Art Exhibit?
We are always hoping to welcome more guests to view the artwork. We want as much exposure as possible for our artists.
8. How is the exhibit changing now that it’s all online?
The exhibit is changing in many ways. First, there are no in-person events being held at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. This means we have had to cancel the physical exhibit, our two days of field trips for special education classrooms, our Artists Talk panel, and our Artists Reception, where the winners are announced. Secondly, our communications team has had to do some fast research on how to develop an online platform that will accommodate our 120+ pieces of artwork. Viewing artwork online is definitely not as impactful as seeing them in person, so I am so grateful for how easily our staff was able to adapt, and how positively the change has been viewed by the registered artists. The feedback I have received has been one of complete understanding and gratitude that their artwork is still going to be viewable, and hopefully, that some people will inquire about purchasing some pieces!
9. Where and when can people see the exhibit?
The ACTion Art exhibit will be viewable online from our website at https://www.artistscreatingtogether.org/actionart, beginning 10am on Tuesday, March 31,
through 6pm on Thursday, April 2. These are the actual dates and times of the ACTion Art exhibit, and we’re trying to stay as true to the original exhibit itself as possible.
10. Can people buy the artwork from the exhibit?
Yes! Many pieces of artwork are for sale in the ACTion Art exhibit. When you go to the online exhibit, you’ll get to view the artwork, read more about the artist, and see the sales price. There is also an option to contact me if interested in making a purchase.
11. What is your favorite part about this exhibit?
My favorite part of the exhibit is getting to know the artists’ stories. Their artwork is often a visual representation of their life’s barriers and successes, and when coupled with their written Bios and Art Statements, it’s a small window into what has helped shape these talented artists into resilient people with big hearts and creative minds.
12. Are you a creative person? What is your favorite way to be creative?
I would say that I am creative in different ways. I have always been artistic. I took art all throughout school, but now it’s rare for me to have the time to pursue artistic endeavors.
Part of why I enjoy working at ACT is that it’s a very creative atmosphere–being around our students, our teaching artists, as well as my colleagues, who are all extremely creative and out-of-the-box thinkers. They help me try to think differently to solve problems and offer new and fresh programming. When I have spare time, though, I gravitate toward acrylic painting and I love arts and crafts.
Please visit the ACTion Art Exhibit online at between 10am on Tuesday, March 31st and 6pm on Thursday, April 2nd. Be sure to vote for your favorite piece, too. Next year, consider submitting your artwork to ACTion Art!
Malcolm Wang is an artist in Michigan. One of his photographs is included in ACTion Art. Malcolm was diagnosed with autism at age three.
Editor’s Note: Malcolm’s entry is #97 in the exhibit. Say the Art of Autism sent you when voting!