Photography series shows accessibility barriers of Toronto’s art scene

Adam Cohoon

As originally published in the Metro.

Adam Cohoon is one of Toronto’s many emerging artists hoping to get his work shown in one of Toronto’s small, hip galleries. Problem is, he can’t actually get inside most of them.

“A lot of the storefront galleries in the city aren’t wheelchair accessible because they usually go in older buildings which have one or two steps,” he said. “The gallery owners aren’t looking to renovate.”

Cohoon has created a photography series called You Can’t Get In, showing some of the man inaccessible doors of Toronto’s art scene.

“When I do the Queen Street or Dundas art crawl, sure I can get into some of the bigger institutions,” he said.

But the smaller galleries are the ones most likely to show work by up-and-coming artists, he said.

“I can’t physically get in and look around, and I’m probably not going to have a gallery show in those galleries,” Cohoon said.

So, the physical barriers create another barrier: They mean most people won’t get exposed to disability art.

When he was growing up with cerebral palsy, teachers thought it would be pointless to give him arts training because he couldn’t hold a paintbrush, Cohoon said. Things have changed since then.

For his photography series, Cohoon mounted a GoPro camera to his wheelchair, collecting photos and videos throughout the day. The images that result are visually striking.

Storefronts in his shots look imposing and impenetrable, seen through the camera’s wide-angle lens from the perspective of someone seated in a wheelchair.

“The most poignant ones, with the time of day I was taking them, I was able to get my own shadow in the photo,” he said.

Chris Hughes, owner of A Nerd’s World, said he met Adam Cohoon when the artist snapped a photo outside the business.

They talked, and Cohoon recommended that Hughes contact to buy a ramp.

Still, the graphic design and photography shop on Bathurst Street in the Annex remains inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs.

Hughes contacted the nonprofit, which has been offering ramps to business for several years, but didn’t get a ramp. It was, he said, too expensive.

Many business owners don’t think about accessibility, but, even if they do, the fix isn’t always easy, Hughes said.

For a small business to spend money on a ramp, “when in the next year, nobody might use it, it’s difficult.

You Can’t Get In was recently shown as a single-day exhibit at Artscape Youngplace. Cohoon is hoping to get it into a gallery show later this summer.

I am passionate about people and focused on developing meaningful opportunities for people with accessibility needs through social entrepreneurial initiatives in journalism, consulting, and arts. As a TED talks junkie, I would love to hear your story and ideas. Reach out and connect with me!


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