Righting wrong perceptions

Indigenous wildlife artist Earl McKay stands next to his painted buffalo skull shortly after the opening ceremonies for the 2017 Saskatchewan Artists of Ability Festival at the Mann Art Gallery. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Earl McKay has travelled across Canada displaying his artwork, but it’s his latest showing that’s most important.

McKay is one of five artists displaying pieces at the inaugural Saskatchewan Artists of Ability Festival at the Mann Art Gallery. He’s done his share of gallery openings and discussions, but being a part of a festival dedicated to artists living with disabilities has special significance.

“I deal with back pain constantly,” he says. “It’s chronic, and I know what some of these other artists go through.”

For McKay, getting lost in his art isn’t just about creating. It’s also about escaping. He enjoys working on pieces, like the painted buffalo skull that’s impossible to miss once you enter the gallery. However, it’s the momentary distraction provided by focusing on his work that brings a bit of peace to his life.

“I know he’s got back problems,” says Kimberly Roblin, his assistant. “But, no matter how much pain he’s in, when he gets involved in his work, it’s his work that he’s focusing on instead of his pain.”

Artists like McKay say there are some misconceptions around disabled artists, and this festival is part of a plan to change that perception. Prince Albert is one of three cities hosting workshops, panel discussions, gallery displays and live performances with the goal of promoting their work.

Organizers and sponsors say it’s an exciting event to be a part of, and one overflowing with optimism and opportunity.

“People sometimes have fears or misunderstandings, and are not really familiar with people who are living with a disability,” says Lyn Brown, the executive director for Spinal Cord Injury Saskatchewan (SCIS).

“This festival has the opportunity to change those misperceptions, to have individuals come and see the work that’s being done.”

Brown and the SCIS are more than just supporters of the festival. They’re also the main sponsor. She says there’s a real need for an art show like this, and the response has been extraordinary.

For the rest of this story, please see the Oct. 20 online or print edition of the Daily Herald.