Story Seeker: Melanie Fernandez
Person interviewed: Kayla Besse and Kristina McMullin, hosts of Crip Times podcast
Interview date: August 23, 2021
Created in 2003 as a result of the very successful Abilities Arts Festival, Tangled Art + Disability works to enhance opportunities for artists with disabilities and to ensure that they are an integral part of the cultural fabric of society. Tangled Art + Disability offers opportunities for exhibition, artists-in-residence programs, master classes, seminars, and other professional development.
The organization’s mission and mandate illustrates the broad spectrum of the work that they undertake:
Tangled Art + Disability is boldly redefining how the world experiences art and those who create it. We are a not for profit art + disability organization dedicated to connecting professional and emerging artists, the arts community and a diverse public through creative passion and artistic excellence. Our mandate is to support Deaf, Mad and disability-identified artists, to cultivate Deaf, Mad and disability arts in Canada, and to enhance access to the arts for artists and audiences of all abilities.
In addition to the events and activities they produce, Tangled Art + Disability has created invaluable resources (toolkits and research) that help organizations work with artists and audiences with disabilities.
The Innovation: A podcast series providing new levels of access
Reflecting on having to close its space and halt its programming as a result of COVID-19, Tangled Art + Disability was very concerned about how to maintain a connection with artists and ease the sense of isolation that already impacts their communities. The Crip Times Podcast Series was launched and is described as follows:
Disabled people have long been experts at staying at home, and getting creative with new ways to stay in community with one another. At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, many of us were wondering how we could maintain the sense of intimacy and connection that we get from gathering in crip arts spaces. Out of this desire, Crip Times was born: a new interview podcast series.
The podcast was produced and hosted by Yousef Kadoura, Kayla Besse, and Kristina McMullin. The artist trio had never produced a podcast before and learned a great deal through trial and error. They brainstormed ideas for topics and discussed options of a live broadcast series versus a podcast format. They wanted to make all decisions in very intentional ways with their audiences in mind. A podcast format was selected because of its accessibility and the partners who could assist with technical help and additional expertise. A larger resource team was formed with two key partners: the University of Guelph and Bodies in Translation. The team was able to create content that was accessible to a broad range of participants and abilities. In addition to developing the podcast storylines using techniques from the Tangled Art + Disability workshop series on digital storytelling, the team integrated the technical aspects required for production and accessibility.
Kayla, Kristina. and Yousef were all working from home during the period of production. They decided to work as a collective, as they would for a collaborative arts project. The project helped sustain them creatively through the pandemic and blurred the lines between the personal, political, and professional.
Past artist conversations from Tangled exhibitions and the second Sunday social (a Tangled program) helped them understand the intimate feel that they hoped to create with the podcast. The trio used the podcast format to overcome geographic boundaries and open up presentations to art forms that don’t fit into gallery sessions. They were able to recruit guests who they may not otherwise have been able to reach, such as: Dr. Ben Barry, Chair of Fashion at Ryerson University discussing imaging fashion beyond the ideal body; Ryan O’Connell, creator, writer and star of Netflix’s Special; Gloria Swain, who speaks about making art as an older, Mad, Black, female artist and activist; and so many more.
The feedback on Crip Times has been very positive, and the series is now being used by OCAD University both as a teaching curriculum unit and as part of the audio exhibition How will we be with you?. The podcast series is hosted on Andrew Gurza’s Wheels on the Ground podcast network, on Spotify and Apple. The series has also been picked up by University of British Columiba radio.
The Challenge: Learning curves and production delays
The main challenge for the project was the team’s steep learning curve related to the technology for podcast production. As the series evolved, Kayla, Kristina, and Yousef felt that their engagement goals and quality of the engagement were becoming clearer. They acknowledge that the series took much longer to produce than they had anticipated, and the launch was moved from August to November 2020. They all had other jobs and projects, which required schedule adjustments to ensure a truly collaborative process.
The Financials: Reaching out across boundaries with new voices and ideas
Given that Tangled Art + Disability’s physical spaces were closed during the pandemic, funds for the project could be repurposed from the organization’s operational budget. Tangled receives federal, provincial, and municipal funding, as well as corporate and foundation support, earned revenues, coproduction support, and donations.
Artist fees average approximately $100,000 per year to support exhibitions, residencies, workshops, professional development, and special projects.
The Takeaway: Storytelling in a new format facilitating broader and richer engagement
Yousef Kadoura, Kayla Besse, and Kristina McMullin are a dynamic team of artists with an extensive knowledge of their communities. As a result of their expertise, they were able to bring together a group of talented partners (University of Guelph, Bodies in Translation, Wheels on the Ground, Ryerson University, and others) to bring the series to fruition and ensure maximum accessibility.
Kayla, Kristina, and Yousef believe that they would not have produced a podcast series had it not been for the pandemic. The circumstances pushed them to find new ways of being together, engaging, and prioritizing access for their communities. The artists, scholars, and activists who participated in the podcast series all shared remarkable insights related to isolation as a daily part of their lives, in contrast to the larger mainstream community that was experiencing this for the first time.
The podcast’s insights and format offered powerful testaments and gave voice to an often marginalized community. Tangled is considering how they can continue the podcast series given the extensive human resources that it took to produce.
As noted by artist Cindy Baker in episode 4 of the Crip Times Podcast:
I feel like I have better skills for dealing with this kind of thing—the pandemic—and what it does to our brains and our bodies, because of the fact that, as disabled people, we deal with these kinds of pressures all the time.
These are things that Crip folks, disabled folks, have been advocating for a really long time. Things like remote work, things like captioning and digital meetings etc. so forth, and now they are being seen as essential because also disabled and non-disabled need them. And it’s kind of just interesting that this pandemic has shifted the way uh, we view needs in terms of serving folks in isolated spaces which, there had been a lot of disabled folks who were then isolated due to ableism in our society long before this pandemic started.