Abilities Arts Festival Invites You to Fall Head Over Heels in Love…Or, At Least, Feel Like You Have!
By Rina Fraticelli
As if we needed any more evidence of the power of art! Scientists at University College in London, U.K., have discovered that “works of art can give as much joy as being head over heels in love.” In a study published this spring, they concluded that the “pleasure” responses registered in the brains of people viewing art were as powerful as those in the throes of falling in love—regardless of whether or not the individuals had any prior knowledge of or affinity for art.
This finding comes as no surprise to the team at the Abilities Arts Festival. For the past eight years, our staff and volunteers have seen abundant evidence of the power of art. The joy engendered by the singers, dancers, and visual and media artists is plainly written on the faces of festival patrons, who span the full spectrum of age, abilities and ethnicities—as well as on the faces of the artists themselves.
During the past year, my first as executive and programming director, I have been continually reminded that the Abilities Arts Festival is about expanding our horizons. The abundant talent reflected in this festival has certainly expanded mine.
The festival, which is held in Toronto, showcases artists from disability communities across Canada and beyond. It typically draws thousands to its visual art exhibits, film series, live performances and energy-charged children’s festival; 2011 promises to be no exception.
PHOTOGRAPHY: I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN
Oct. 1 (Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) to Oct. 30, Carlton Cinema Gallery, 20 Carlton St. FREE
Abilities Arts Festival 2011 kicks off with both an event and an exhibition. I See What You Mean begins with an all-night, interactive event inspired by the notion that “a portrait is given, not taken.” We will use instant cameras, photo booths and digital photography to create self-portraits that will then be incorporated into a month-long exhibition of portraits by acclaimed documentary photographer Vincenzo Pietropaolo, commissioned by the Canadian Association for Community Living. The exhibit will provide an opportunity for viewers to show us what they see, how they see and how they wish to be seen.
FILM: PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST…AS AN ARTIST
Oct. 15&16 (Sat. @ 7p.m.; Sun. @ 12:30 p.m.), Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton St. ($10 general; $8 seniors 65+, students under 19 & people with disabilities) 
While the challenges for artists with disabilities may be extraordinary, their ingenuity for engaging with those disabilities is virtually limitless. Our feature presentation, A not So Still Life, peers into the kaleidoscopic mind of Ginny Ruffner, a renowned glass artist as beloved for her magnanimous spirit as for her outrageous and luminous “thought experiments.” In our shorts program, we hear Kazumi Tsuruoka sing Smokey Robinson; encounter a drummer who describes his body as a “75-watt bulb plugged into a 1,000-watt outlet”; witness a rising filmmaker who turns the camera on himself; and watch an avant-garde, integrated dance-theatre company rehearse their take on a classic absurdist play.
MUSIC: THE NEAT STRANGE MUSIC OF AHMED HASSAN
Oct. 21 & 22 (8 p.m.), Betty Oliphant Theatre, 400 Jarvis St. ($25 general; $20 seniors 65+, students under 19 & people with disabilities) 
Acclaimed dancer, Peggy Baker, has said that her late husband Ahmed Hassan “engaged with” rather than “battled” MS. This year saw the passing of Hassan, a visionary writer, musician, composer and world-beat trailblazer. Working with Baker on our all-star celebration of Hassan’s work has been a constant reminder that death has no dominion over an artist’s legacy. “Neat Strange” will pulse with the energy of Hassan’s collaborations with renowned dancers, choreographers and musicians—including Baker and Hassan’s legendary world-beat band, Mother Tongue.
KIDS FEST: IN CELEBRATION OF OUR CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Oct. 12 & 13, Villa Colombo (for schools only; pre-registration required) 
Once again, our children’s festival was fully subscribed months in advance. And it’s no wonder with performers such as international drumming sensation Luis Orbegoso, Broadway-bound Tim McCallum, Shawn Brush “The Krooked Cowboy,” ASL Waves interpretive dancers and opera diva Kyra Millan lined up to entertain audiences. Our children’s festival does much more than simply entertain 600 kids, teachers and assistants each year (not that this isn’t enough); it also reminds all of us—from the youngest to the oldest, across the wide, wide spectrum of abilities—of our inherent power as creative beings.

Tickets and info available at 888-844-9991 or online at http://abilitiesartsfestival.org./

Abilities Arts Festival is a registered charitable organization celebrating the power of art and promoting opportunities for artists with disabilities.