Walking into Art Enables, a gallery and community arts program for people with disabilities in Washington, D.C., I was instantly greeted by friendly coordinators and the sight of artists perfecting pieces with paint brushes, markers, papers, and canvases.
Art Enables creates a space for artists to share their powerful stories and experiences through their work, supporting artists with disabilities by featuring their captivating artwork in its exhibitions. Providing artists with disabilities the opportunity to market and sell their pieces, Art Enables' mission is to reduce barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in the workforce by promoting accessibility, showcasing their art, and providing workshops to assist them in advancing their artistic careers. As one of the artists from Art Enables explains, “I realized that I wanted to become an illustrated book writer because when I go to every bookstore, they don’t have any special books for kids with special needs. I want to show the world who we are.”
As both a space to create and display art, the center hosted various exhibitions in the gallery space this summer such as Jujyfruits, Down The Street: Rhode Island Ave., and Garden Variety. As I stepped into the gallery, I came across their first exhibition of the summer: Down the Street: Rhode Island Ave., a large–scale representation of Road Island Avenue, the street that Art Enables is located on, and a vibrant portrayal of its social and political atmosphere and role in the larger D.C. area.
Down The Street: Rhode Island Ave. is a collaborative piece incorporating even the smallest urban details: water gutters; pedestrian crossings, Do Not Enter and One Way signs; bicycles; and parking meters. This entirely black–and–white exhibition showcases a creative reconstruction made only of paint, paper, and tape.
When walking through the exhibition, it feels as if you are truly taking a stroll through a paper street with tables sitting outside of cafes, storefronts plastered above, dogs and cats wandering freely, and people chatting away inside the stores and restaurants. Besides drawing attention to the art, the black and white color scheme of the exhibition represents the contrasting identities and personal intersectionality of both the artists and the residents on the street. These features combined present everyday life in the neighborhood.
Down the Street: Rhode Island Ave. replicates the community’s diversity and historical significance through a variety of buildings, ranging from a Catholic church as you enter the exhibition to a Jamaican restaurant in the corner. Moreover, the small townhouses featured in the exhibition provide a glimpse into the lives of the people that call this street their home. The posters allude to social movements that people in the area actively mobilize for—one displayed in front of a pizzeria, stating “Black Fathers Matter” and “Black Lives Matter,” refers to the Black Fathers Matter Motorcade, a celebration honoring the role of Black fathers through a five–mile parade across the nation’s capital. Shining a spotlight on the diverse lived experiences in D.C., Down the Street: Rhode Island Ave. embodies the resilience of a community building a brighter future.
This exhibit remarkably demonstrates the power of art in celebrating a community and fostering inclusivity. In Down the Street, the artists of Art Enables provide representation through artistic expression for people with disabilities who have often been unable to share their stories and experiences through art. Art Enables is not only an art gallery, but is also an inclusive outlet to reflect on societal issues through art and spark conversations between artists, community members, and visitors.