Artist Spotlight

Kathy Austin

We are excited to bring you a Q&A with one of our artist in residence, Kathy Austin. Kathy is a legally blind artist from Calgary, Alberta who is a strong advocate for the inclusion of artists with disabilities. In her conversation with us, she shares her experiences with accessibility in her artistic practice, as well as discusses her work and upcoming projects. 

Question: Why is art and music meaningful to you?

Kathy: “Music and art are very therapeutic. Music soothes or distracts me depending on the kind of comfort I need. Making art, including writing, is a way for me to express myself and teach others about blindness through fun and humour.

Q: What has your experience in the music community been like?

K: “Very limited. I worked with Kunji Ikeda to create a soundscape for a dance I choreographed for MOMO (now merged with the NaAC). Kyra, the past artistic director of MOMO Movement, brought in a composer to create original music for our show, “The Mind Palace.” I worked with Carlos Arteaga to create a 25-minute soundscape for my exhibition “Malochio” last October.

Headshot of Kathy Austin

[Image Description: The photo is a portrait, or headshot, of Kathy Austin. Kathy is standing against a white backdrop, and the image is cropped to display her head and shoulders. Kathy is wearing a baby blue sleeveless shirt and three strings of fake blue pearls. Her hair is dusty brown, and it’s pulled back into a braided ponytail. Kathy is smiling while wearing oval glasses with transparent blue frames.]

Q: How would you describe your artistic journey so far?

K: “A long and winding road! I’ve been creating art ever since I could hold a crayon. I took a drawing class in college where the prof was fresh out of school and he didn’t know what to do with a visually-impaired student. He wanted me to draw like my sighted classmates, so I tried, but then, exasperated, he said, “I’m so sorry I ruined your innate drawing ability.”

Fast-forward some 20 years when a friend said, “you can get your innate drawing ability back,” so I spent 18 months on a drawing diary. Luckily, I now have the confidence in my talents to not be pushed to change my personal style for a grade, or to please someone else.

Q: What has your experience with your artistic practice and accessibility been like? 

K: “Before I came to Calgary, I functioned only in the able-bodied sphere – mostly in publishing. After coming to Calgary, I spent seven years in a ceramics class at the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) and 15 years in a crafts class. As of 2006, I joined Artistic Expressions, which became part of the National accessArts Centre in 2010. Working with people who support individuals with disabilities has given me opportunities to exhibit and sell more work.

Q: What are you currently working on with CAMIN?

K: “The NaAC has lent me a handy digital recorder to capture sounds in my world. I want to combine spoken word with soundscapes. I’ll be working with the NaAC’s Coordinator of Audio and Music Programs to learn more about digital audio manipulation, digital editing, and digital production. The project will be a combination of sound collage and spoken word poetry.

Q: What would you like the future of your artistic journey to look like and are you releasing any personal projects in the near future?

K: “I expect to keep writing, hopefully, for the rest of my life. Publishing again would be great. I really like the residency opportunities (with pay) that the NaAC is providing and hope these advancements continue. I want to keep performing. I’m expecting to dance and perform my poetry in future performances like the QAAC Cabaret presented by the NaAC in March.

About Kathy

Kathy M. Austin is a legally blind artist from Calgary, Alberta who is a strong advocate for the inclusion of artists with disabilities. Her love of colour and personal expression is evident in every aspect of her creative output, including her bold and vibrant wardrobe choices. Austin’s artistic practice is multifaceted, and she’s been participating in Canada’s rich artistic scene since moving from Michigan in 1996. She is a dancer and guest instructor with the National accessArts Centre’s movement and performance programs (formerly MOMO Movement), is part of the Good Host program at Inside Out Theater, teaches visual art classes with the YMCA, has published three books, and is a facilitator of creative writing at Calgary’s Central Library. Austin also has a long standing history of exhibiting her artwork, including shows in Dubai (2019), Italy (2011), and multiple shows throughout Alberta, Canada. She has also participated in residency programs, including the Collider Residency at Contemporary Calgary.

Austin is a member of Canada’s oldest and largest disability arts organization, the National accessArts Centre (NaAC), previously known as the Indefinite Arts Centre. NaAC provides artistic training, studio space and exhibition opportunities for artists with developmental, physical, and acquired disabilities. The organization promotes the work of resident artists through exhibition in Canada and abroad, and advocates for the inclusion of artists with disabilities in the contemporary arts scene.

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