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Case Studies / Disability History

Case Studies: Perception and Ability Student Exhibit

This thesis project initiates a discussion about the nature of how we perceive and define people with disabilities in order to raise awareness of how labels have an impact upon our perceptions of others and ourselves.


Perception & Ability

By Gabrielle Buzgo in Collaboration With Maryland Institute College of Art’s Curatorial Practice M.F.A.; Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum & Library, Baltimore Lab School

Perception & Ability Exhibition Brochure

chair in the exhibit
An installation shot showing a club chair circa 1930, from the Evergreen House Foundation, that was specifically designed for Ambassador Garrett so that he may sit comfortably, with his shortened leg hidden underneath his body, when entertaining guests, and work by artist Breon Gilleran. Visitors were invited to sit in the ambassador’s chair. Image courtesy of Nancy Daly


Throughout history various terms have been used to describe people who do not fit the social status quo: degenerate, lunatic, retard, cripple, disabled. Over time, society has evolved to become more aware of the connotations of these terms and with the help of political correctness has improved the terminology. However, the dependency on labels still exists, within society as a whole and within sub communities, such as the art world. Labels effect our perceptions of the people around us; association with labels predetermines identities, establishing preconceived notions of a person’s lifestyle and capabilities. Why do we assume to know what a person’s abilities are based on our perception of them? Why is it widely acceptable to attribute an identity to another person through a label? By developing a term with a definition that forces an identity on a person it causes a person to become “the other” which comes with assumptions that alter society’s perception. For example, a person with an IQ level below what is considered “normal” is labeled intellectually disabled by a medical professional; from then on this “disabled” person is often perceived as stupid, inept, “less than.” This then leads to emotional reactions ranging from pity to hatred. These unwanted reactions can lead people to hide from society; either literally by shutting themselves off from the world, or by taking (sometimes extreme) measures to compensate for what society does not what to see. Rarely are these “disabled” people given the opportunity to determine their own identity, or if they are, they must work to also prove that they deserve it. Within the art world “disabled” artists have been grouped into a category known as visionary artists. The artists put in the visionary category have typically not been formally trained and approach their process in a non-traditional way, specifically, in a way that allows them to create. The exhibiting of visionary artwork is not approached the way that high art is; in a very pitying way all work is accepted, regardless of form, content, concept, style, or any of the standards to which all other artists are held. This leads me to two questions—why is there a category of artists excluded from the high art world for a reason that is not based on their work, and why is there no institution showing work from artists of varying identities simply based on the standards of art? “Perception & Ability” my MFA in Curatorial Practice thesis, was an exhibition, at Johns Hopkin’s Evergreen Museum & Library, that addresses the way that labels effect perceptions of a person’s ability, while also highlighting the unique history of the house’s one-time-owner, Ambassador John W. Garrett (1872-1942). Additionally, Gabby Davis, a twelfth-grade intern from the Baltimore Lab School, assisted me with the planning and execution of “Perception & Ability” and its related programming. Within the context of a museum, artists will have the opportunity to represent themselves, and address their own identities, perceptions, or experiences with labels of ability. Thus, the artists will initiate a conversation about who determines ability, what perceptions labels can cause, and issues of accessibility within the arts.


1. To showcase artists who are considered Disabled with artists who are not considered Disabled, in order to create an inclusive and accessible art environment. 2. To allow for a discussion about perception and labels between the disabled and non-disabled communities; specifically, who determines the label (or identity) “disabled.” 3. To initiate a dialogue between artists with disabilities and artists without disabilities in order to establish acceptance and inclusion. 4. To increase awareness of the unique history of Evergreen Museum & Library, specifically its remodeling to accommodate the physical needs of Ambassador John Work Garrett. 5. To provide a Baltimore Lab School intern with a unique preparatory experience within an art field while she or he also establishes a level of professional confidence. 6. To create a status quo of seeing an artist and their work first and their level of perceived ability second.

Exhibition Summary

“Perception & Ability” will be an exhibition at the Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum & Library in Baltimore that addresses the way imposed labels effect our perceptions of an individual’s abilities. The exhibition will be in the North Wing Gallery, which is a space designated for rotating contemporary art exhibits. The exhibition will include contemporary artists, who are selected from a juried call, whose works will be juxtaposed with parts of Evergreen’s permanent collection in a way that highlights the subject of labeling, as it relates to Ambassador Garrett and the artists. Additionally, specific details about Ambassador Garrett that had previously not been highlighted will be exemplified through object selection, wall text, and takeaway content. Programming surrounding “Perception & Ability” will foster inclusion and discussion about labeling and accessibility for all communities.

exhibit of walking canes
To the left of Ambassador Garrett’s portrait is a wall showcasing a small collection of his various canes from the Evergreen
House Foundation. Image courtesy of Gabrielle Buzgo.


Artist Selection

The selection of artists will occur in a juried process, with which James Abbott and myself will be included, initiated by a regional call sent to organizations and advertised publicly. The application call will look like the following: Perception & Ability will be an exhibition at the Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum & Library in Baltimore that addresses the way imposed labels effect our perceptions of an individual’s abilities. While labels, such as disabled or handicapped, are used to categorize individuals within society—not even the art world has escaped this practice—they show little regard to how individuals define themselves, or how they defy such labeling. In example, the one time owner of Evergreen, John Work Garrett (1872-1942), had a tubercular hip from a carriage accident as a child. Ambassador Garrett was considered “crippled” (using the vernacular of that period), but he refused to adhere to the level of ability associated with such labeling; he graduated from Princeton University, traveled the world collecting precious objects, and led a successful diplomatic career with the American diplomatic estate that culminated with his appointment as United States Ambassador to Italy during the Hoover Administration. In consideration of such, this exhibition will highlight the unique design of the house, alterations of which responded to the physical needs of Ambassador Garrett. Jurors will select artists based on how their work addresses the above issues in a contemporary manner through personal context and experience and to the lesser degree of Ambassador Garrett’s history and the history of his residence. • What is your experience with the correlation between labeling and the resulting perceptions? • Do you, like Ambassador Garrett, defy a label that’s been given or assigned to you? • How do you perceive yourself, and how does that affect the label you choose? • Are you sensitive to the way others perceive your abilities? • Do you try to effect those perceptions in your own way? If your artwork relates to Perception & Ability through the above list of questions, a story similar to Ambassador Garrett’s, or in a different way, follow the guidelines below and submit the attached form with images of completed work by December 30, 2012. Selected artists will be notified on January 14, 2013. Please email questions to Artwork must adhere to the following guidelines in order to be considered:

  • Three images of artworks and submission form must be completed at the
  • time of submission
  • Artwork must relate to the subject matter as it is described above
  • Artwork must be original
  • Submission form and images must be submitted by the deadline 12/30
  • Artwork that is selected must remain in the exhibition for the entire duration,
  • March 10—May 26, 2013
  • Images that are submitted for consideration will not be returned to the artist
  • Programming

Programming will begin with an Opening Reception at Evergreen Museum & Library. The participating artists will be available for discussion during the Opening and two floors of the house will be open for exploration. In conjunction with inclusion and education, a program will be held at the BLS. Jeffrey Kent, an artist with a learning disability, will be invited to hold a workshop with the students of the Lab School. Gabby Davis, the BLS intern, will work with Kent and her classmates to design the format of the workshop. Kent’s presence will provide a positive example of an accomplished person who has faced the same challenges of the students and met success. Similarly, a panel discussion will be held at Evergreen Museum & Library called “Doing It Differently,” which will create a dialogue about the artist, the educator, and the institution have been doing things differently to create more inclusive and accessible arts environments. A professor and artist who identifies as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Marcus Civin, will moderate the panel. Panelists will include Dan Keplinger, artist and star of King Gimp, an award-winning documentary of Keplinger’s life as an artist with cerebral palsy, Dr. Mariale Hardiman, co-founder of the Neuro-Education Initiative at Johns Hopkins University will present on her work of arts integration increasing cognitive development in the classroom, and Ashley Hosler, who is the Senior Education Coordinator at the Walters Art Museum who designs and implements Sensory Morning, a program designed for families with children with sensory processing disorders. Following the discussion, panelists, and hopefully artists, will be available for continued discussion in “Perception & Ability”. These conversations will be a foundation for inclusion, understanding, and change in the future.


Publication for “Perception & Ability” will be in the form of a brochure catalogue, and will include images of the artwork with statements from the artists, and an introduction from the curator. The catalogue will be free and available by the opening reception.


A three-person committee consisting of George Ciscle, director of the Curatorial Practice MFA program at MICA, James Abbott, director and curator of Evergreen Museum & Library, and either Darran Tilghman, Director of Development or Wilnett Dawodu, Intern Coordinator, at the Baltimore Lab School will review my thesis project. The assessment will be an evaluation of the completion of the aforementioned goals. Likewise, this may be measured through the level of attendance at the exhibition and programming events, as well as a visitor’s survey that will be available in the gallery.

Thesis Plan

Tasks, responsibilities, and expectations were defined and agreed upon between the student curator and James Abbott of Evergreen Museum & Library in October 2012. They were as follows: 1.) Evergreen Museum & Library will review and edit materials of the exhibition, having final approval on all printed materials, though the student curator is responsible for the initial research and writing of the exhibition, as well as for spearheading the organization of the exhibition—including formulation of a working schedule, submission of call for artists’ work, scheduling meetings with jurists, proposing and planning layout of the exhibition, arranging for delivery of works to Evergreen, etc. 2.) Regular contact with Evergreen Museum & Library should include regular attendance of staff meetings (every other Tuesday morning) by the student curator. 3.) The student curator will have access to resources for the exhibition, which include Garrett papers owned by the Evergreen House Foundation, through contact with Amy Kimball of the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries. 5.) The student curator will provide Evergreen Museum & Library with a concise paragraph describing the exhibition, in your voice that will be incorporated into letters that will go to potential donors.


October 2012: • Agreement on division of tasks • Submitted draft of call for artists November 2012: • Post call for artists using, through email, via the project website, and printed brochures and posters • Began attending bi-weekly staff meetings at Evergreen December 2012: • Wrote first draft of Small Grant proposal for the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC) • Extended deadline for call to January 10 January 2013: • Began meeting with Gabby Davis once a week • Reviewed and selected artists with James Abbott • Scheduled and advertised dates for the Opening Reception and Panel Discussion • Confirmed panelists and moderator February 2013: • Received MDDC award of $750 • Formulated install schedule • Developed Face book page • Created MailChimp campaign for Opening Reception • Wrote drafts of all text materials for review by Evergreen (wall text, labels, brochure essay) March 2013: • Printing of all text materials (wall labels, vinyl, brochure) (March 7-9) • Install (March 1-9) • Opening Reception (March 10) • Created MailChimp campaign for Doing It Differently April 2013: • Doing It Differently panel discussion (April 4) • Gabby interviews Jeffrey Kent in preparation for BLS workshop • Dates confirmed for BLS workshop May 2013: • Jeffrey Kent at BLS (May 1) • De-install (May 27)


Refreshments $150 Doing It Differently  Panel Dan Keplinger Stipend $600 Dr. Mariale Hardiman Stipend $300 Ashley Hosler Stipend $300 Marcus Civin Stipend $150 Paint $250 Vinyl $50 Labels $50 Submission Printing $40 Printing $200 Total Cost:  $2,090 Total:  $4,040


The following is a bibliography of all the texts that were used as research and/or references. Design for Accessibility: An Arts Administrator’s Guide. [Washington, DC]: National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, 1994. Print. Dodd, Jocelyn, Richard Sandell, Debbie Jolly, and Ceri Jones. Rethinking Disability Representation in Museums and Galleries. Leicester: Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, University of Leicester, 2008. Print. King Gimp. Dir. Susan H. Hadary and William A. Whiteford. Perf. Daniel Keplinger. University of Maryland, 1999. DVD.

Labels & Wall Text

Introduction Wall Text

Perception & Ability March 10-May 26, 2013 Curatorial Practice M.F.A Program, Maryland Institute College of Art in partnership with The Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum & Library Evergreen’s Ambassador John Work Garrett (1872-1942) had a tubercular hip caused by a childhood carriage accident and thus was considered “crippled” (using the vernacular of that period), but he refused to accept the expected limitations associated with that label. He graduated from Princeton University, traveled the world studying different cultures and collecting precious objects, and led a successful diplomatic career within America’s Department of State that culminated with his appointment as United States Ambassador to Italy during the Administration of President Herbert Hoover (1929-1933). His career success was dependent upon an ability to appear “normal” and, thus, he succeeded by masking his physical challenge. Labels such as that applied to Ambassador Garrett are still used to categorize members of society and still impact how people perceive one another. But unlike Mr. Garrett’s era, people of today are defying such labeling and choosing their own means of identification that often includes full recognition of a disability. It is with this evolution in mind that four artists, some with challenges like those faced by Ambassador Garrett – Diane Cullinan, Breon Gilleran, Matthew Saindon, and Scott Sedar – have been selected to share their experiences with labeling. Their respective works of art have been thoughtfully matched with some of Mr. Garrett’s personal belongings, as well as with items associated with his wife, Alice. By juxtaposing the contemporary with the historical, this installation seeks a dialogue about defining one’s identity – a dialogue that realistically spans over one hundred years and many stages of social change. – Gabrielle Buzgo, Curatorial Practice M.F.A. Candidate, MICA ‘13 Wall Labels & Gallery Guide Gallery Guide Matthew Saindon, American, b.1973 Chosen Labels: Daddy, Husband, Artist, Free Given Labels: ADD, Scattered, Aloof, Distracted For more information, visit Disorienting Dilemmas, 2012 Photograph Scott Sedar, American, b.1951 Chosen Labels: Painter, Creative, Artist, Educator Given Labels: Polio, Gimp, Challenged, Different For more information, visit Before (Child With Drum), 1999 Oil on canvas Self-Image, 2001 Tempera on paper Prey or Pray?, 2000 Tempera on paper Diane Cullinan, American, b.1966 Chosen Labels: Breast Cancer Warrior, Strong Woman, Beautiful Woman, Fighter Given Labels: Breast Cancer Survivor, Cancer Survivor, Cancer Patient, Patient For more information, visit my face (daily): my head shaved, 2007 Photograph something I would miss: my son (wearing my wig), 2007 Photograph a private place: my tattooed breasts, 2008 Photograph Breon Gilleran, American, b.1949 Chosen Labels: Artist, Deluded, Novelty Seeking, Compassionate Given Labels: Crazy, Headstrong, Stubborn, Disorganized For more information, visit Hippocrates Promise, 2010 Cast bronze, iron, wood, found materials John Work Garrett (1872-1942), 1890 Courtesy of the Evergreen House Foundation John Work Garrett (1872-1942), 1884 Courtesy of the Evergreen House Foundation John Work Garrett (1872-1942), 1872 Courtesy of the Evergreen House Foundation Evergreen Baseball Team, 1888, Ambassador Garrett as Team Manager Courtesy of the Evergreen House Foundation Wall Labels John Work Garrett, c.1930 Oil on canvas Henry Varnum Poor (1887-1970) Collection of the Evergreen House Foundation (EH 1952.1.10) Alice Warder, c.1907 Terracotta Pietro Canonica (1869-1959) Collection of the Evergreen House Foundation (EH 1952.1.119) Club chair, c.1930 American Vinyl upholstery (not original), wood Collection of the Evergreen House Foundation (EH 1952.1.) Stereopticon Viewer, c.1900 American Wood, glass, brass Collection of the Johns Hopkins University, Bequest of John Work Garrett (JH 1942.1.934.1) The following works of art for Perception & Ability contain images that may be sensitive to some viewers. Please exercise your own discretion. Parental guidance is advised. Website & Social Media Visit Facebook

Evaluation: Visitor Survey Results

Of the visitors surveyed 73% were first time visitors, 0% were museum members, and 86% were previously unaware of Ambassador Garrett’s “disability.” Visitors were presented with two statements about seeing Perception & Ability and were offered a numeric range to choose from, 1 being not at all and 6 being very much, as their answers. “After seeing Perception & Ability, I believe I will have a greater appreciation of works of art regardless of the artist’s physical or developmental abilities.” 1: 7% 2: 0% 3: 0% 4: 27% 5: 20% 6: 40% N/A: 7% “After seeing Perception & Ability, I will reconsider labeling a person based on their perceived physical or developmental abilities.” 1: 7% 2: 0% 3: 7% 4: 13% 5: 20% 6: 47% N/A: 7% Visitors were also asked to share their age on the evaluation. 18-25: 33% 26-35: 33% 36-45: 0% 46-55: 13% 55+: 7% N/A: 13% The numbers suggest that it was not Evergreen Museum & Library’s typical audience that attended Perception & Ability, but a new, younger type of visitor who came to the museum for the first time, and gained a new awareness of the museum’s history, a greater appreciation for the artist as an artist—not a disability—and a new outlook on labeling based on perceptions. Self Reflection The Opening Reception of “Perception & Ability” totaled in 160 people in attendance, a much larger tally than I had expected. The reception allowed me to take part in and observe conversations that reflected surprise of Ambassador Garrett’s personal life, questions for the artists about accessibility and experience, as well as individuals’ personal connections to the work or the ambassador. Based on my goal to initiate dialogue about accessibility, as well as Ambassador Garrett’s life, this was a huge success. A bonus was how many first-time visitors were at Evergreen, specifically MICA students (graduate and undergraduate), and people who were connected to Baltimore Lab School—approximately five staff members attended. “Doing It Differently,” the panel discussion, warranted 27 people in attendance, filling nearly all of the seats that were set up in the Leon Bakst theatre at Evergreen Museum & Library. The audience was a mix of students, artists, educators, and more, who all participated—through Q&A—in a discussion of inclusion of the arts and education. The panelists, Ashley Hosler, Dr. Mariale Hardiman, and Dan Keplinger, all presented for approximately 10 minutes each on their own areas of expertise. Ashley Hosler, Senior Education Coordinator at the Walters Art Museum presented on the program, Sensory Morning, which provides families with children with sensory processing disorders accommodating time at the Walters though specialized hours and activities. Ms. Hosler shared that since December 2010, the event has tripled in attendance and increased in occurrence. Dr. Mariale Hardiman, co-founder of the Neuro-Education Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, shared her findings on the cognitive developmental benefits of arts inclusion in the classroom. She briefly touched on her Brain Targeted Teaching Model, which breaks down six brain targets which, Dr. Hardiman has found, greatly affect a child’s learning—climate, environment, design, mastery, application, evaluating. Dr. Hardiman provided examples from her work at Roland Park Middle School, which will now continue through a government funded research project. Dan Keplinger spoke both about his experience as an artist and his experience as student. Mr. Keplinger shared how the expanse of his mediums directly correlates to the expanse of his vocabulary, as he sees art as his preferred form of expression—as it requires no translator. This of course means constantly learning new practices and technical skills, which for Mr. Keplinger, has repeatedly meant proving an instructor wrong—he can be taught painting, sculpture, ceramics, and more. This part of the discussion led to some very interesting feedback from the audience about experiences with students whom they thought could not do things, but “I realized the question was, how was I going to teach her,” (audience member who is both a participating artist and a printmaking professor at Goucher College). Following the formal discussion was a reception, during which I both heard and observed continued conversations with the panelists, artists from the related exhibition, and other audience members. Both in attendance and discussion, Doing It Differently was a huge success, as it increased awareness about accessibility and inclusion in the arts through personal work, experiences, and conversation. Jeffrey Kent at the Baltimore Lab School workshop was a surprise in the level of success. BLS was given Preach! New Works by Jeffrey Kent catalogs to familiarize students with Kent’s work. Unbeknownst to me, the visual and performing arts teachers all designed activities for groups of students that were based on Kent’s work that were presented to Kent. This ranged from experiencing the tight quarters of a slave ship, to navigating social prejudices, to musically experiencing the differences between unity, diversity, and harmony. The groups also created artwork that referenced Kent’s. This created an easy platform for Kent to speak, as well as stimulating impressive Q&A by the students. Kent shared with me that he was moved to tears. At the end of the workshop, the administration of BLS expressed interest in maintaining a relationship with Kent in the future. My biggest critique was the lack of explanation in the gallery about how and why the specific contemporary works were paired with the specific collection objects. The more I have tours of the space the more I realized how much of the show is missed when I am not present. Given the opportunity, I would give brief wall text explanations of the relationships between the contemporary art and the permanent collection objects. All things considered—creativity, design, implementation, process, and sustainability, I would say my biggest success was the relationship that was formed with the Baltimore Lab School through Gabby Davis and Wilnett Dawodu. The introductions that were made to MICA, Evergreen Museum & Library, and Jeffery Kent have been described as exciting and priceless pieces of enlightenment that I intend to maintain through Dawodu and other staff at the Lab School.

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