In the fall of 2020 the Ford Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced an 18-month initiative to increase the visibility of disabled creatives and elevate their voices. Developed after the foundations spent a year researching how to better serve disabled artists, writers, filmmakers, and other creatives, the initiative will invest $1 million in supporting 20 disabled creators whose work “advances the cultural landscape,” as the foundations put it.
Through the Disability Futures Fellowship, Ford and Mellon hope to address industry-wide problems in the arts, journalism, and film — including a lack of disability visibility, accessible professional development opportunities, and a national grant program that considers the unique financial challenges of disabled creatives.
One of the takeaways from the study is the mantra “nothing about us without us” (first uttered by AIDS activists and adopted by the disability justice movement). To honor that sentiment, the new initiative (originally suggested by the disabled community) is also facilitated by disabled creatives who nominated and selected the 20 fellows who will each receive a $50,000 grant. The majority (13 out of 20) of the Disability Futures Fellows are also members of the LGBTQ+ community, reflecting the intersectional nature of the disability justice movement. Meet a handful here.
SKY CUBACUB is the nonbinary, queer, and disabled Filipinx designer behind Rebirth Garments’ wearables for the full spectrum of gender, size, and ability. Through the use of neon colors, unusual fabrics, and innovative designs, Cubacub is leading a queer and disabled fashion reform movement. Cubacub is also the editor of the Radical Visibility Zine, a publication for queer and disabled teens. They have lectured at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, the University of Utah, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Northwestern University. Rebirth Garments has been featured in Teen Vogue, Nylon, Playboy, HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Vice, Wussy Mag, and The New York Times. Cubacub was named 2018 Chicagoan of the Year by the Chicago Tribune and is a 2019-2020 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow. (@rebirthgarments)
MIA MINGUS is a writer, educator, and community organizer for disability justice and transformative justice. She is a queer, physically disabled Korean trans racial and transnational adoptee raised in the Caribbean. She advocates for interdependent communities that provide a home for everyone. Ming us helped create the framework of the disability justice movement, and she runs Leaving Evidence, documenting her thoughts on disability and the justice movement. She has played a key role in connecting disability with other movements and communities and fighting ableism, lack of access, and abled supremacy. Mingus is a founding member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, where she helps build transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse. (@mia.mingus)
TOURMALINE is a filmmaker, writer, and activist whose work highlights the capacity of Black queer and trans social life to impact the world at large even as participants live simultaneously invisible and hypervisible existences. Her filmmaking focuses on everyday people and mundane creative acts. Her films include Salacia, Mary of Ill Fame, and Happy Birthday, Marsha! She coedited the book Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility. Her work has been presented internationally including at the High Line (2019), the Museum of Modern Art (2019), the Brooklyn Museum (2016, 2019), and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (2017). She is the recipient of the Publishing T r ia ng le Awa rd (2018); Special Mention at Outfest Film Festival (2018); HBO & Queer/Art Prize (2017); and the Art Matters Foundation Grant (2016). (@tourmaliiine)
JEN DEERINWATER is a multiply disabled journalist, organizer, and photographer. A citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, she identifies as bisexual and two-spirit, and covers the issues Native communities f ace with an intersectional lens. Deerinwater’s journalism and writing articulate a broad range of issues including Indigenous rights, reproductive justice, land justice, and disability accessibility in organizing. Deerinwater is the founding executive director of Crushing Colonialism , a multimedia platform by and for Indigenous perspectives and creativity; a contributor at Truthout, and a New Economies Reporting Project fellow. Her work can be found in publications such as Bitch, Rewire.News, and In These Times as well as in two recently published anthologies, Two-Spirits Belong Here and Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories From the Twenty-First Century. (@jendeerinwater)
ELI CLARE is a white disabled genderqueer activist-survivor-poet who wrote one of the seminal works of the disability justice movement, 1999’s Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. Clare is from a working-class rural background, and his narratives weave together fiction and nonfiction in poems, essays, and books while centering the intersectionality of disability, queerness/transness , the endangerment of the natural world, and the pursuit of social justice. In addition to Exile and Pride, Clare is the award-winning author of Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling With Cure and The Marrow’s Telling: Words in Motion. He has also walked across the United States for peace, coordinated a rape prevention program, and helped organize the first Queerness and Disability Conference. (EliClare.com)
LEAH LAKSHMI PIEPZNA-SAMARASINHA is a queer disabled nonbinary femme writer, performer, space creator, freedom dreamer, and disability and transformative justice movement worker of Burgher/Tamil Sri Lankan, Irish, and Roma heritage. One of the leaders of the disability justice movement, Piepzna-Samarasinha is the 2020 winner of the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Jean Cordova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction and author or coeditor of nine books, including Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories From the Transformative Justice Movement (edited with Ejeris Dixon), Tonguebreaker, and Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. Since 2009, Piepzna-Samarasinha has been a lead artist for the disability justice performance collective Sins Invalid. They also co-created Performance/Disability/Art, Mangos With Chili, and Toronto’s Asian Arts Freedom School, and are on the programming team for the Disability and Intersectionality Summit. (@leahlakshmiwrites)
All photos courtesy of Disabled Futures Fellowship.