Moe Beitiks

Meghan Moe Beitiks researches, discusses, analyzes, critiques, questions and creates environmental art. She is the eco-arts columnist for, a popular green design blog with over 100,000 unique daily visitors. She founded, a place for the exploration of issues and themes in eco-art. She's a regular contributor to the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts' quarterly journal and blog. She was an Art Culture Nature fellow at the Earth Matters on Stage Symposium in 2009 and a Fulbright Scholar to Latvia in Theater in 2001/2.

Announcing the CSPA Quarterly’s New Rising Co-Editors

The CSPA QUARTERLY is proud to announce our rising Co-Lead Editors, who will be sustaining the publication and transitioning to eventually become Lead Editors.

Jamie Morra is an art historian living and working between the United States, Scotland, and Spain. Her interests include the aesthetics of ecology, human-animal relations, and ways in which technology has come to mitigate the formal qualities of everyday life. Her background in theories of art and the environment inform her work with artists as a facilitator, producer, project manager, researcher and writer. In 2014 Morra co-founded Residency 108 to invite artists to share her deep connection to the natural world and abiding concern for the issues facing our planet. The program aims to underscore the connections, both formally and conceptually, between art and nature. Morra holds a B.A. from the Gallatin School of Individualized Studies at New York University, an M.A. and a Curatorial Certificate from Hunter College.

Evelyn O’Malley is a Senior Lecturer in Drama at the University of Exeter, where she teaches, researches and writes about environmental theatre and performance. Published work includes the monograph Weathering Shakespeare: Audiences and Open Air Performance(2020), in addition to articles and book chapters on theatre, performance, sea and mountain-scapes, weather, climate change and reproductive rights. She has also written short pieces for Waymaking: an anthology women’s adventure writing, poetry and artAn Ecotopian Lexicon and Tree Tales.

Her collaborative research in the field has included working with scientists and meteorologists from the UK Met Office and University on a Natural Environment Research Council Climate Stories project, in addition to a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council project on Atmospheric Theatre: Open Air Performance and the Environment, with Chloe Preedy. She is also a collaborator on a global SSHRC practice-research collaboration Cymbeline in the Anthropocene, led by Randall Martin.

She is from a mostly grey place called Baile an Bhóthair (the town on the road) in Dublin, Ireland, and now lives and works in another mostly grey place called Exeter, England, where she can be found struggling up hills on her bike, never dressed for the weather and still surprised, heartstopped by the city’s occasionally-magnificent light.

The CSPA Quarterly is a publication arm of the Centre for Sustainable Arts. It is meant to give a longer format and deeper space for exploration than some online platforms provide, and to reflect the myriad ways in which sustainability in the arts is discussed, approached and practiced. The publication features reviews, interviews, features, artist pages, essays, reflections and photos. It is a snapshot of a moment in time, a look at the many discussions in sustainability and the arts through the lens of a particular theme. It is part of a rigorous dialogue.

Jamie and Evelyn will be working together to:

  • Develop an archival, digital publication of the Q
  • Develop and sustain new income streams for the Q
  • Plan issues for 2024 and beyond, assuming sole Lead Editorship in that year
  • Sustain the Quarterly and its continued relevance.

They will be working with the guidance and support of current Lead Editor Meghan Moe Beitiks, whose final issue will be Q40.

We are incredibly grateful to be bringing on these prolific, skilled, insightful and talented writers and administrators, and look forward to their vision for the Quarterly as it changes and adapts over time!

Questions? Please email


Open Call for submissions to the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts Quarterly, Q35: “The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Decolonizing Art & Ecology”

This issue of CSPA Quarterly destabilizes Colonial Settler perspectives in ecological art practices. By bringing together artists and writers who re-center BIPOC, and particularly Indigenous, voices in decolonial eco-art, this issue proposes a different way to view ecology. Currently inviting submissions. Artists of any media, or style encouraged to submit their work. Poets, Painters, Photographers, Authors of Fiction, Non-Fiction, or Essays all welcome. Please submit your name and a short (50-100) word description of the work you would like to contribute, along with a writing sample, or small portfolio to the editor, Jonah Winn-Lenetsky by February 28th at

More information about the Quarterly, include past issues, here.


The CSPA QUARTERLY is currently seeking a (Co) Lead Editor to work with our current Lead Editor in sustaining the publication and transitioning to eventually become a Lead Editor themselves. 

The CSPA Quarterly is a publication arm of the Centre for Sustainable Arts. It is meant to give a longer format and deeper space for exploration than some online platforms provide, and to reflect the myriad ways in which sustainability in the arts is discussed, approached and practiced. The publication features reviews, interviews, features, artist pages, essays, reflections and photos. It is a snapshot of a moment in time, a look at the many discussions in sustainability and the arts through the lens of a particular theme. It is part of a rigorous dialogue.

Our reach is wide: we want it to be wider.

We have more than 6,000  followers on social media, more than 1,500 subscribers to our email newsletter, our website receives 3,500-6,000 hits per month. Our CSPA Quarterly is accessed by institutions and  artists worldwide via JSTOR and other platforms. We are a crucial resource for artists and art organizations who are researching,  embodying, promoting and re-inventing sustainability. 

This Co-Lead Editor would work with us to:

  • Assist in developing an archival, digital publication of the CSPA Quarterly
  • Assist in developing and sustaining new income streams for the CSPA Quarterly
  • Plan issues for 2024 and beyond, assuming sole Lead Editorship in that year
  • Sustain the Quarterly and its continued relevance. 

This is a volunteer position. We know how that sounds. Currently, the CSPA works within a hybrid academic/commercial context, where the labor of editing and contributing is seen as an extension of academic research, and is therefore unpaid. It currently exists and functions  on systems of privilege, based on the income, time, and access of  its  organizers. That’s a problem we want to change. 

Our current income streams include:

  • Fees from publication access on JSTOR
  • University Grants 
  • Issue purchases on MagCloud
  • Subscriptions on Patreon

Right now, these incomes only cover Quarterly design costs. But we’d like to change that. We’re looking for someone to help us amplify our current efforts at generating revenue and supporting our contributors. We want to pay people. The Lead Editor position at the Quarterly has always been volunteer/unpaid, with contributors and Guest Editors receiving a free subscription for their work.

We’d like to build on our crucial work thus  far, and stand even more firmly at the nexus between academic and popular research in Sustainable Practice in the Arts. We’re seeking someone with resources that would enable them to engage in this work, and who could use those resources to expand our platform to those who do not have  such  access. We need someone who is passionate about our efforts, extending opportunities to others, and amplifying the fantastic work of the many artists engaging with sustainability on a cultural, ecological, social and economic level.  We hope that person is you. 

Please send letters of interest and a website or CV to


Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner, audio described ky Katie Murphy. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely. In this chapter, Ray Jacobs discusses the process of creating “Four Solos in the Wild.”

Audio Description of Four Solos in the Wild by Katie Murphy

Four Solos in the Wild By Ray Jacobs

I am in a familiar situation — a circle of twelve talented learning-disabled dancers from Arty Party — partaking of the ritual known as warming up. Each performer takes their turn to lead, taking their moment in the spotlight and passing it on to the next performer…     Each performer has a distinct movement language honed through a lifetime of dance and movement based projects, or simply their own indomitable style.

Mervyn (Performers’ names used with permission) begins, with movements and gestures that have power, gravitas and yet they still hold qualities of softness. Graham, who has an incredible graceful sense of wingspan within his arms, beguiles us with his bird-like movement. Erika brings weaves a lightness of moving with contagious joy and laughter to match. Andrew, all angles and emotion, falls into the drama of dancing, daring us to be part of that drama.  Dean adds his twisting, repetitive and darkly comedic movements of subterfuge.

My name is Ray Jacobs, director of performance projects for Arty Party, a learning- disability arts organisation based in Shropshire, England. Four Solos in the Wild, is a touring exhibition of dance solos filmed in ancient wild woods. This is the story of how the project evolved from a moment’s desire, into — two years later — learning-disabled performers sharing their work with the public at the Tate Modern Museum in London. I speak as an observer, a facilitator, a director and a learner in this unfolding process.

The warm-up sparked the initial spark.  During it, I had a growing hunger for this movement to be shared within a landscape that meets the performers incredible qualities and Tycanol Woods came to mind.  I wondered what if the performers were to respond to, be taken up by, and place their movements within the magical Tycanol Woods?  

Months later, seven learning disabled performers and a team of artists arrived at Pentre Ifan Centre in the Woods. After hastily unpacking sleeping bags and choosing bunk beds, we began a ritual of filling water bottles, donning walking boots, cagoules (waterproof jackets), and gathering for adventure. Support, patience, openness and laughter replaced habitual urgency.

The movement solo, especially when created by the performer, is an intensely artistic and personal statement. This, I felt, would be the right channel for the performers to create and have agency over their own work. We would be creating an installation of four film screens, showing each solo continually looped, surrounded by a forest of images of the performers captured by dance photographer Chris Nash.

Movement facilitator, Simon Whitehead, led us through the atmospheric Tycanol Woods, where, like a many-legged creature finding its pace after a long time immobile, we found a rhythm and a pace that suited everyone.  We splashed, splattered, crunched, and slid. There are members of the company who find uneven surfaces challenging, but the group met squelchy mud, slippery rocks and glorious cushions of moss, with creativity, cooperation and laughter. The excitement and group impetus gave energy and verve to everyone. Playfulness is a strong, committed member of the group.

During the walk we stopped at a glade opening, deeply moss covered rocks and oaks in the foreground, an island of oaks on the horizon. The instructions were to walk towards the horizon and find a place to be, within the landscape. Once the first person arrived and settled, the next person was to follow and find their own place in relation to both the landscape and the other performer, and so on. Half the group witnessed the forming of this landscape portrait. The act of walking into an opening, being in a chosen place, alive to the environment, felt like a statement of sovereignty over our bodies, yet at the same time we were supported by each other and the landscape. We returned, one at a time, leaving no physical trace of the group but inhabiting it with memories.

Tycanol Woods is an ancient dark oak woodland, rich in moss, fern and lichen. Towards the hostel is a more recent, lighter part of the woods, with a mixture of beech, oak, sycamore and holly, ideal for bonfires and days when we don’t want to walk quite so far. Gathering the performers around an old fire pit, amongst a group of large beech trees, Simon gave the performers a task in pairs: one person leads, listening, seeing, touching the environment as they walk through the woods. The other follows. The leader is looking for a place that resounds, feels right, invites. Once the right place is found, the leader becomes dancer, spends time connecting with this place and then with eyes closed begins to move. When the dance comes to an end, eye contact is made between the mover and witness and the roles are reversed. Solos are created.

As a group we visit each solo. Graham Busby has chosen some long forgotten dens made of branches. He hides and scurries between the old dens like a hermit crab. His witness, Wren, aids the shell building, covering Graham’s body with leaves and branches. Erika Juniper dances around the base of a big beech tree, a dance of fingers sensing and listening, a powerful connection and longing.

Back in the studio the work was recalled in writing and drawing, and re-enacted, each performer was allocated a mentor who supported this recording process. These tasks of listening, moving and witnessing, and performance immersion within landscape, were all contributing to building the personal stories, the structure and the flavors of each performer’s solo. 

Whitehead shares memories of the retreat:

Slowly, Tycanol entered us, and the dancers became quietly attuned the place and each other…

Real time seemed to drop away and a process of composition, song and observation took us through the falling afternoon light for hours. It was both ‘real’ and sublime. 

I remember a talk by disability activist Petra Kuppers, at a conference in Ilfracombe, during which she stated that there was a strong need in disability performance to present ‘depth, heft and presence.’ This phrase has become an inner mantra and was one of the beacons moving this work forward.

Dance, historically, has been a bastion of the body perfect. An art form based on perfection is like a road ignoring all contours and cutting through the landscape with no regard and ultimately a heavy cost. Inclusive dance, on the other hand, is open to meanderings, diversions, the beauty of curves, twists, and setbacks. 

Facilitating disabled performers to make their own work or collaborating with disabled people is not a separate field, or something adjunct to the mainstream but at the very heart of being human.

Returning to the Woods two weeks later, we had the task of honing the solos, creating music and costume and filming all four solos in five days. The performers were joined by Welsh composers and musicians Ceri and Elsa, supported by mentors, and followed by film makers.

The musicians had researched traditional music composed in the region. Morning movement sessions, led by inclusive dance artist Rachel Liggitt, forged an incredible link between performers and musicians. The musicians learned to respond to the dancers and the dancers, breathing in the notes of harp and fiddle, breathed out beautiful, moving dance. 

“It felt so good being out in the woods by the tree, spending time with it.” – Erika, performer.

Erika’s solo was woven together with the song a Cantref that the musicians had unearthed.  The song is a message from a yearning lover sung to a bird who would relay the message to her heart’s desire. Erika’s dance of whispering, tender strokes and circling the tree sparked our imagination…  Erika, in a flowing purple gown, performs the solo with incredible concentration and presence. The musician’s voices add atmosphere to this scene in the heart of the woods. When Erika reaches out to touch the tree and the haunting Welsh voices begin, it is deeply moving. Performers, camera crew, mentors, and support artists are mesmerized and applaud every take.

“I’m feeling really good today, we did the filming, it was really wicked.” – Erika

Whilst given the space to find their own creativity, the performers were provided with rigorous direction, feedback, mentoring and critique, enabling them to work to the highest professional standard. I remember as a performer in an inclusive touring dance company, during a physically and emotional gruelling devising process, the disabled dancers stated critically that they did not receive the wrath and demands of the director as much as the non-disabled dancers.  Arty Party’s process aimed not to recapitulate inequality. 

One of the ground rules we had been given was to ‘be here and now’… amongst the calls of ravens, rush of streams and flight of the air. Andrew Kelly, one of the performers, initially struggled with this: falling into dramas of ‘another world’: being chased, dodging bullets, breaking down doors. I suggested a simple score of calling out loud the things we feel and the things we see right here: the edge of a leaf, the roughness of lichen, the call of a raven, a distant aeroplane, the snap of a branch underfoot. Opening the door to the present also invites all the things we are avoiding.

Andrew’s dance Letting Go was the last piece to be filmed, on dappled ground under the canopy of a sinuous oak: harpist, fiddle player, film crew and Andrew in spring sunshine, making sense of it all. During an interview, Andrew put his solo into words:

Breaking out from the cage of branches is finding my freedom.

Touching the sapling gently, I remember my Mother’s love.

I break and throw the branches, I feel raw with anger about my mother’s death.

Letting go of the branch is just that, letting go of it all and starting anew.

During the post-production process the films were edited exactly as they were performed, using shots from different camera angles to bring out the best.

Community dance pioneer, Cecilia Macfarlane, once shared during a lecture at Coventry University, that “Every project has a storm, it might happen at any time but I assure you it will.”  The storm happened three weeks after getting back from filming, when we all found out that Dean Warburton and his mother had been killed in a car crash on the way to the workshop.

The remainder of this workshop and others during the following weeks were amongst the most emotionally challenging myself and my colleagues had ever facilitated. Performers and teachers shared so much grief, attempts at running a class regularly breaking down, with the whole group sharing memories and in tears. Attending Dean’s funeral with group members really brought it home. Three weeks before, we were in beautiful woods exploring the idea of burying each other amongst branches, moss and birdsong, with the usual funny, soft, expressive Dean, and here we were at his funeral, Dean’s larger than life body in a wooden coffin being carried gently by his family.

The Four Solos in the Wild opening was to be a celebration of the exhibition and a wake for the life of Dean. It was only upon setting up the four screens, each showing a looped solo, that we realized how beautifully they worked together as a quartet. Many people working at the theatre entered the space and were mesmerized by this quartet of solos – actions, gestures and stories full of presence and connection. Arty Party has a membership of one hundred, many of whom were present. The opening was a beautiful, wild, red carpet event. 

The exhibition toured seven UK venues. At each opening the performers spoke to the public about the project and their solos, each time growing in confidence. When the exhibition was shown locally, it was a chance for the learning-disabled performers to share their work with support workers, family and friends. To hear how people were moved by the presence, qualities of movement, sense of inner story, was music to our ears. The performers grew visibly in stature through the process of sharing their work and the positive public response.

We are currently preparing for the project finale, a sharing of the filmed solos at the Tate Modern Cinema, organised by learning-disability film festival Oska Bright.  Presenters have been Skyping with the performers on a regular basis. The performers will be invited to talk about their work in front of an audience of learning-disabled people, film festival programmers and curators.  From the ancient woods of Tycanol to the South Bank in London, it will be a fitting finale to quite an adventure…


Ray Jacobs is a UK based artist who uses the mediums of image, film and movement to highlight the beauty, power and presence in the narratives that surround us. Ray works as a director and facilitator, creating imaginative and powerful works with a wide variety of companies, performers and participatory groups in particular collaborating with disabled artists.  He states, “I aim in my work to create movement and image which steps quietly into the human heart”.

His recent multi award-winning short films include The Sea Reminds Me and Bastion.  He is currently developing a new film based project with Arty Party based on the writings of Canadian Sci Fi author Jeff Vandermeer.


Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely. In this chapter, Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi describes the process for the work “Skinny.”

“Skinny” Layout designed by Stephanie Plenner,
described by Katie Murphy, Photos by Cheng-Chang Kuo

Making art about Crip bodies has always been an urge to not only explore the meanings of our existence — and the social relationships with others — but also as a deliberate choice for constructing visual and tactile languages to document disability as a cultural phenomenon and familial history.

Rahnee (named used with permission) and I are sisters, not by blood, but by our connections to disability. Our contractured fingers and toes, and our Asian blood, made us sisters. Rahnee is half Thai and half white; I am a Taiwanese. Rahnee has psoriasis and I was born with two fingers and toes.

As a personal assistant, I help Rahnee with personal hygiene, including showering, applying lotions, massaging her skin and dressing. Sometimes I use my finger tips to peel off the excessive skin to relieve Rahnee from her swollen and inflamed skin. I would feel the body fluid rushing out of her skin between my nails and finger tips, then I would massage her skin with a thick layer of lotion. We often talk throughout this process as peer support time: sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, and sometimes we are just exhausted together.

It always felt like I was making sculptural art with Rahnee’s body: our conversations — languaged through strokes of hand — became a part of the stories woven and shared by each other. At the end of each “hygiene-care art” sessions, I would sweep the skin flakes off the bed sheet and on the floor, and form mounds of them before tossing to the bin.

Most of us have taught to see disability as something negative, debilitating, weak, incapable or vulnerable. it is something that people try to get rid of. Peeling and tossing away Rahnee’s skin are actions of relieving her from pain and itch, but are they also metaphors of getting rid of her disability? What does it mean to remove traces of her disabled body? If her skin flakes were evidence of her existence, what does it say about the gesture of throwing piece of her away?

While I contemplated on the questions above, I decided to turn to sewing and made pods to hold pieces of Rahnee’s skin. Disability shapes the way we interact with one another, it reformulates the way people relate and access to another human being which otherwise is absent in the non-disabled world. As a Crip artist of color, having disability and providing care to and making art about another disabled sister is about creating intimacy and Crip sisterhood. Most importantly, it is about preserving and sustaining the existence of my own kind.

Title: “Skinny”
Artist: Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi
Material: Human skin flakes, silk organza, sewing thread, embroidery thread and lotion.
Date: 2014 ~ On-going

Photos by Cheng-Chang Kuo

Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi makes small-scale body adornments
exploring the meanings of disabled women’s bodies by remapping the narratives of skin, scars, and medical and surgical interventions on the disabled bodies. Her work examines the potential of art to address the relationship between the body and social standards pertaining to beauty and disability. Her latest project focuses on body reconfiguration through delineating memories of medical and surgical Unexpected Anatomies intervention. Yi received a BFA, and MA in art therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from the University of California Berkeley. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include, Disability Art and Culture, social justice based art therapy, museum studies and disability fashion.

Q18 DESCRIBED: Being Animal

Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely. In this chapter, Susanna Uchatius discusses an “othered” performance by Theatre Terrific.

Audio Description of “Being Animal,” by Katie Murphy, designed by Stephanie Plenner, Photos by Chantele Fry

Produced and performed by Theatre Terrific September 2015
By Susanna Uchatius

During the longest West Coast drought in recorded history, Theatre Terrific gathered an inclusive cast and crew to explore our place in the natural world. Inspired by philosopher and cultural ecologist David Abram, we journeyed into a conversation with nature. Abram observes, “Humans are tuned for relationship. The eyes, the skin, the tongue, ears and nostril – all are gates where our body receives the nourishment of otherness.” (1)

We asked ourselves the question:

What would happen if we fully embraced otherness in ourselves, in our communities, and in nature?

The result was Theatre Terrific’s production of BEING ANIMAL (2) , performed in Sculpture Park on Granville Island as part of the 2015 Vancouver Fringe Festival.

A cast of 12 actors, often labeled as “other” due to cognitive, physical, mental health, gender and/or cultural differences from the normative, took up the challenge and collaborated in a bold exploration that tested the truth of our relationship with our natural surroundings.

Do we speak the language of water, of wind, of tree, of bird?

The collaborative ensemble consisted of the physicality, language and perceptions of artists, some of whose life experience includes autism, cerebral palsy, brain damage, schizophrenia, Down syndrome, gender uniqueness, and the cultural experience of the Indigenous, Chinese, Filipino, Irish to name a few.

BEING ANIMAL became a musical moving conversation. The work incorporated the park environment such as the trees, grass, confined water, large stone, sky, air — as partners in performance. Using song, dance, music, mask and puppetry, BEING ANIMAL, explored how to truthfully “live” in our world, share thoughts with the environment around us and ultimately find commonality and companionship with the natural world.

How did we do this?

By embracing the gifts of diversity offered up by cast and place.

How to speak with a tree. An actor chooses an audience member to pick a tree and then guides them through a speed date…. The awareness of the tiniest detail as one attempted to impress a tree made for astute and profound conversation.

The life cycle of nature. An actor crawls out of his wheelchair and furiously claws at the earth to get closer to the beloved family members he has lost. Behind him three actors gesture the dance of love, death and ultimate rebirth…an enactment of the continuum that is the natural life cycle.

Value all things. The simple gesture of a cast member gently picking up a stone or a leaf, examining it and then with great respect, giving it as a valuable gift to an audience member endowed the simple object with reverence ….

again and again and again….

BEING ANIMAL closes with a large Mother Earth puppet who slowly appears, and with outspread arms, embraces the cast: guiding them to walk to the water’s edge to raise their arms in praise to the open sky, ocean, trees and wonder of it all.

Theatre Terrific:

MISSION: Theatre Terrific pioneers inclusive opportunities for artists of all abilities to develop performance skills and collaborate in the production of theatrical works.

MANDATE: Through its work, Theatre Terrific challenges audiences to be open to the impact of thought-provoking art.

Susanna Uchatius has been the Artistic Director of Theatre Terrific, Western Canada’s longest running inclusive theatre company for artists of all abilities in Vancouver, since 2005. She has written, directed and collaboratively developed over 30 professional, community and site-specific productions. She has pioneered a rigorous and respected accessible ensemble process, that includes Equity and emerging actors of all abilities in the creation of high quality productions tackling universal issues relevant to the human condition.

Photos by Chantele Fry


1. Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous : Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. New York : Pantheon Books, 1996. Page ix.
2. A direct reference to Abram’s 2010 book of the same name.


Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner, audio described. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely. In this chapter, Stephanie Heit and Petra Kuppers embody a discussion of creative practice as self-care.

Reading and Audio Description of “Tendings” by Petra Kuppers and Stephanie Heit

Tendings: Creative Practice as Self-Care 

by Stephanie Heit and Petra Kuppers

In this essay, we share our ongoing joint practices of tending, collaborating, and being in place. We initially developed these practices out of the curriculum of Body and Earth by Andrea Olsen, which combines experiential anatomy, eco-specific investigations, somatic exercises, and writing. We began these tending practices in May 2015 while at Playa Artist Residency in Oregon and have continued them in our homebase of Ann Arbor, Michigan and during 2016 in multiple residencies, from Vandaler Forening in Oslo, Norway to The Thicket Artist Residency on a Georgia barrier island. The work connects us to the environments we are in; tunes us into our own bodyminds and their shifting states; tends our individual selves, our relationship and our surroundings; and nurtures our personal creative projects and Olimpias work [1] within a laboratory of open attention. The practices’ sustainability relies on our own flexibility and creativity to meet the day’s needs: shifting a movement exercise from standing to lying down to accommodate pain, narrating prompts to support concentration and reading difficulties, and adapting an exercise that calls for swimming in a lake to a bathtub or pool when it is freezing outside. These ‘tendings’ cultivate ongoing creative self-care and create a framework that extends to stewardship of self, interdependence, community, and the environment.


Stephanie: Our tendings reside within shifting locations as travel, performance engagements, and artist residencies change our locations. I live with bipolar disorder and my stability relies upon routine. Intensive travel and change, though exciting, can often be a challenge and disruptive to my equilibrium. Each new place I work to establish a nest and connect to the ground. I unpack my things (if we are in a place for a stretch) and familiarize myself with the layout of the space. Find where I feel comfortable, where I want to write. The tending practices help me transition from here to there, which may mean a new time zone, slant of light, ecosystem, temperature, as well as exhaustion from long travel days that deplete me and demand recovery time. 

Lying on the ground and feeling grass blades on my ankles and neck as Petra traces my outline with her feet and cane, I tune into the specific breathing of the wind, allow my rhythms to tune into the rhythms of my surroundings. These tendings we create and adapt to hold each other in changeable states and to witness and hold the land in which we are visitors. The invitation to feel the cellular exchange – inside to outside, outside to inside – is permission to be however we are. I can be tired while Petra is charged after a productive morning, and the muskrat swims in sleek V’s across the pond. I’m able to lean into the care offered through connecting with Petra, perhaps in palpating each other’s feet bones giving way to a juicy foot massage, and heightening my awareness through engaging with the oak tree, shoreline, wood mossy floor. This multiple focus that includes and extends beyond, often gives way to shifts – tiredness may lessen after falling into a deep snooze while listening to red-winged blackbirds. There is tending in this creative gesture of interaction and witnessing, in paying attention to both strength and fragility. 

Petra: In many ways, the availability of travel is still a miracle to me: as a disabled woman and wheelchair user, one of my fears (grounded in the reality of living in a non-accessible world) is being stuck, not being able to move, for pain, for wheelchair-inaccessible environments with stairs and thresholds. In ridiculous overcompensation, my life-path has been one of mobility, one that leaves me without a mortgage or permanent home, and one that means that I have a decade-long practice of taking occasional leave from my university to go gallivanting. But travel is not good news for stressed environments, and I know the ecological impacts of flights, and try to be mindful in my choices. 

Disability access still sucks, everywhere. My embedment in the privilege of white and child-free academia allows me funds to overcome barriers. And love, of course. The love of my partner, my friends, my Olimpias artist collective collaborators, all the many people with whom we play and who open up their homes, their trucks, their knowledge of secret lakes to us. I am glad to travel these days mainly with my collaborator and romantic partner – Stephanie is the smallest connective web outside my own bodymindspirit, and we’re weaving our world together, two fragile women, queercrip travellers who help each other through challenges. A few years ago, I said no to the life of the gigging scholar/artist and the multitude of plastic hotel rooms I sat in after the last rehearsal or performance or dinner, lonely and disconnected. I am taking seriously the charge to build my performance career as a sustainable thing, through and with travel, and I can do so by leaning always toward and into connection.

After all the travel, the point of the exercise is to live a rich life everywhere, including at home. So after weeks of adjusting to the particulars of beds, paths, and dietary options, we get to play out our new sensoria in familiar surroundings, at home. Suddenly, it’s February, and we stretch and touch ice crystals on Michigan trees. We trace paths in the sand of a beach on Lake Michigan, careful not to slip on the snow. I remember how easy and free that movement felt when I had just climbed out of a hot tub in the Sierra Nevadas, my bodymind warm and my blood bathing my achy joints. The memory helps my swing in the cold crispness of our riverside park in Ann Arbor. And in turn, the delicacy of ice sculptures makes me see the abandon of the Floridian sea with new appreciation, makes me think about the fish out there, and their journeys, the pathways of so many creatures who circle around the earth.

Mover and Witness

Stephanie: We water dance in the Florida pool with its plunging deep end and Atlantic waves in ear distance pounding the shore. Sunday ‘snowbirds’ lounge in afternoon siesta. Petra and I enter the pool, one couple in the shallow end share the space. We employ a practice from Authentic Movement that has become a staple in our investigations; we witness each other for timed movement sessions, the mover with eyes closed. Petra submerges, her body fluid and grace as she buoys the depths, limbs waft and carve the surrounding water. There is ease and delight as she changes pace and twists her knees in alternating tightropes to the bottom, surfacing with arms reaching to sky, water droplets streaming. I witness aware of my own impulses, certain moves she makes that my body wants to try on, aware of the difference between watching underwater and above water. As witness, my job is also to keep Petra safe, to make sure she isn’t in danger of running into the cement side or into another swimmer (in this case a moot concern as we now have the pool to ourselves). After five minutes we change roles, and I explore water’s range, lean into the sensation of held breath, bubbles out my nose as I go down, and the sweetness of inhale only to go under again. I enjoy the slight disorientation with my eyes closed, the lessened gravity and ability to freely go upside down and flip in ways uncomfortable to me on land. We do a couple more rounds and both comment on how much fun this is and wonder why we didn’t start sooner.

Our water dances are not ‘performed’ with an audience in mind. In this case, we did have some onlookers from the pool: found audience members. But usually it is simply Petra and myself in nature with many non-human participants such as birds, gecko, unfurling fern. At times, we are witnessed by the occasional human, such as the odd straggler who walks by while we are in our local botanical garden dancing with a young sapling on a trail. We are not in rehearsal for a presentation. The focus is on awareness in the moment, not on product. 

Nourishment and Manifestation

Petra: Our tendings provide nourishment for ourselves, for our relationship, for our engagement with our environment. And they also lead us toward manifestation. New audiencing procedures emerge from our tending practice. I am learning more and more about and through somatic writing, writing that accompanies bodily sensation. So after our daily five-minute dances in water, we trek home to the apartment, and take out notebook or computer. Freewrite time. Stephanie writes somatic vignettes which she later mines into poems. I am currently engaged in a fiction apprenticeship: I track my somatic states by pushing them into narrative scenarios. She writes about the raccoons swimming across the tidal channel in a straight line, making us laugh with their little white ears sticking up. In the same freewriting timeslot, I write about a group of women engaged in an aquafitness session in the long tidal zone of the beach — shallow waters with low breakers –marching together and finding each their own challenge and blessing in the sea. Both productions are nourished by the freedom of sensing, listening, smelling, tasting, touching in open form engagement with the elements of site. 

Toward Performance

There are other manifestations of our practices. In December 2016, we sent out an invite for an Olimpias action on the beach at Jupiter, Florida. This was our call, put out on social media: 

We’re going to have an Olimpias sound improvisation score on the beach, honoring the passing of experimental sound artist and queer elder Pauline Oliveros. Since Katy Peterson, Stephanie Heit and Petra Kuppers set this in motion, the tragedy in Oakland happened [2], so we’re also holding space to mourn the electronic musicians, dancers and lovers who died in the Ghost Ship. If you want to join us, with instruments, moving bodies, voices, or just your presence, just message. Action followed by an early dinner together. Free, dinner will be subsidized if you need it, let us know if you need particular access provisions as that will shape where we’ll meet exactly.

This was tending in a larger frame. We listened together, and then performed an open score improvisation in the rhythm of the waves crashing into the sand and rocks of Coral Cove State Park. In our ear was the chatter of a group of young students who visited the site with a warden, the susurration of wind on sand, the roiling of water lapping over itself in the hollows of the sandstone rocks, the (to us) non-audible sounds of conspicuous chiton mollusks who clung to rock niches, moving in non-human time. Out of these moments of deep listening, we created a song we sent outward, to help and honor the path of familiar creative spirits far away, into the hollows, toward the horizon.

Moment Awareness and Sustainability

These are some examples of public manifestations of our private, ongoing, everyday practices of tendings: writings, participatory actions, little calls to attention, shifts in bodyminds, through the sound practices of poetry, through the somatic engagement of performance workshops, through the narrative drives of fiction. 

Our first impetus is the moment itself. Our tendings are moment awareness work that nourishes attention and tends our senses. We hold space for the Open. We also pay attention to our avenues toward manifestation outside our private sphere. Our collaborative practice is sustainable as a partnership through differentiation as much as through collaboration. Each of us creates our own responses to the communally held actions, and, individually and communally, we find our audiences. Being in these flows, open creation and focused manifestation, nourishment and production, are the vital energies of our personal thriving. 

We live well when we swim, roll, dive and float. And we feel better when we find points of connection between our private play in the land and water and the wider world around us, a sociopolitical world that needs to see joy, embedment, disabled people finding their grace, and reaching out toward others to sit on the beach together, listening.


Stephanie Heit is a poet, dancer, and teacher of somatic writing, Contemplative Dance Practice, and Kundalini Yoga. She lives with bipolar disorder and is a member of the Olimpias, an international disability performance collective. The Color She Gave Gravity (The Operating System 2017) is her debut poetry collection, and her work most recently appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Typo, Streetnotes, Nerve Lantern, Queer Disability Anthology, Spoon Knife Anthology, Theatre Topics, and Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance. She has been awarded residencies at Vandaler Forening in Oslo, Norway; The Thicket in Darien, Georgia; Tasmania College of the Arts and Parramatta Artists Studio in Australia. 

Petra Kuppers is a disability culture activist, a community performance artist, and a Professor at the University of Michigan. She also teaches on the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College. She leads The Olimpias, a performance research collective ( Her Disability Culture and Community Performance: Find a Strange and Twisted Shape (2011) explores arts-based research methods. Her Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction (2014) is full of practical exercises for classrooms and studios. Her most recent poetry book is PearlStitch (2016).  She has recently been awarded residencies at Vandaler Forening in Oslo, Norway; The Thicket in Darien, Georgia; Surel’s Place in Boise, Idaho; Tasmania College of the Arts and Parramatta Artists Studio in Australia. 

Queer Crip Speculative Fiction (Apprentice) site:


  1. The Olimpias has a long history of community art practice with disabled people in water, on land, in site-specific explorations. For more information about the Olimpias, see Kuppers, 2014, and, more recently, about the Salamander Project of underwater explorations, see Kuppers (2015 and forthcoming) and Karp and Block (forthcoming). See also Kafer about Olimpias minor outdoor actions in nature (2013: 143/44)
  2. A house fire on Dec. 2, 2016 at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland killed 36 people during an underground electronic music show. The resulting discussions highlighted the struggles of many people, including artists, in finding affordable and safe housing in gentrifying cities.


Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

Karp, P. & Block P. (in press) We Float Together: Immersing OT Students in the Salamander Project. In Occupation Based Social Inclusion. (Eds. Brueggen, H., Kantartzis, S., and Pollard, N. Whiting and Birch, London, UK.

Kuppers, Petra. “‘Swimming with the Salamander: A community eco-performance project’ Performing Ethos, 5, no. 1/2 (2015): 119-135.

Kuppers, Petra. “Writing with the Salamander: An Ecopoetic Community Performance Project.” Field Works: Essays on Ecopoetics. University of Iowa Press, forthcoming.

Kuppers, Petra. Disability Culture and Community Performance: Find a Strange and Twisted Shape. Harmondsworth: Palgrave, 2014.

Olsen, Andrea; Bill McKibben, fwd., Caryn McHose: Body and Earth: An Experiential Guide. Middlebury, 2002.


Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner, described by Katie Murphy. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely.

In this our fifth chapter, Neil Marcus shares thoughts on disability, theater, hope and embedment.

Audio Description of photos in “Creativity, Sustainability, Disabiliti”


Neil Marcus

“You don’t have to quote me unless I say something relevant. I am just myself.”

–Manfred Warmuth

portland may08 112

Photograph from a talk on “Disability Culture” by Petra Kuppers: “The Olimpias” Art Collective at Portland Art Festival, May 2008



my thoughts on theater and disability
its about making sense of chaos.
its about making the spirit visible.
its about discovering all the connections and linkages that make us
human together and describing them.
disability as having a meaning in disability, has no meaning. 

“it doesn’t rain disability.” 


…in a Godzilla world in the location of Manhattan…Godzilla roams the city streets with huge car sized footsteps.  Car alarms go off constantly. Godzilla is upset by the ruckus.

wheeee yuhhh wheeee beeep beep!! A big nuisance.  irritant…bother.

in a Godzilla world, everything topples around her.  towers, freeways, stores, trees. and Godzilla spits fire.  ssss…


Hello dear friend of the petrified wasp-in-pine sap:
I heard of your search for documents or documentability.
I search for the same. Striving for clarity and new forms of expressions in my own ‘disability’ [bad word] related prose poetry/theater of life.
Personally, I like the words hypertext, subtext, metaphor link and offshoot:
where words and ideas constantly embark on spin off words and ideas and
movement shakes and dances out of every crevice of thought.

I often work off graphic images. A sign reading ACCESS TO PLANETARIUM
with appropriate stick wheelchair figure mid sentence prompts my bodythinking.

Hence pictures take us to words, ideas to explore.

crip planetarium

“Department of English, University of Michigan” Photo by Neil Marcus


Email exchange:
Neil Marcus66<!– (10:46:23 AM)–>: doing art……living artistically I think helps me …………………it gives me good direction
Neil Marcus66<!– (10:48:29 AM)–>: I as always fascinated by movies about prisons. how people cope?
Ester — (10:49:04 AM)–>: With?
Neil Marcus66<!– (10:51:01 AM)–>: difficult situations.. another favorite topic…………..marooned…………..
Ester– (10:52:36 AM)–>: Themes of isolation? Separateness?
Neil Marcus66<!– (10:54:22 AM)–>: yes definitely and discovering tremendous resources………….

Picture = 1000 words
Idea = staff of life
Poem = 1000 ideas

Art on the walls.  Art in the trees. Art in the gaze.  Art in the clay.

Art in the flesh.  Art in the move. Art in the stroke.

I am doing my criptography (the painting of brush stroke simple figures that in my mind are all representations of disabled people moving) the view of the view of the view of the view of the view:


to insinuate oneself onto
to insert ones self
into public discourse/sphere
appropriate popular culture
with culinary delights
sandwiches made with garden fresh tomatoes peanut butter
and homemade jam
To be spastic
to be proud
To boldly go where  …
you want to  go in this intrepid universe
with great enterprise


I found this road sign on the campus of the National University of Australia outside of the Chefly Library. It was lovely to run into.  As far as I know, it is a one-of-a-kind artwork and/or perhaps a ‘public work of art,’ as Australia is famous for government-funded art in public spaces. 

I have never seen the universal access sign in this format.

 I imagine someone had walked by it one day and saw the need to humanize it a little.  This was truly a revolutionary act to me. With a flower, no less. 

ausie crip

Thoughts about the importance of road signs and getting the message right. 

Art Full. 

The flower presented here really undermines the static purely ‘functional’ representation of disability. 

 â€œI’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.” 

–Replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) in Blade Runner


We don’t always remember how glorious it is to be human…what we live

through and how we come out. It is hard to speak of such experiences

but we all do have them.

I quote Blade Runner above because I think the android’s view of life

is well articulated. I look to the outsider for commentaries on the

human life. Aliens androids prisoners: the disenfranchised.

Humans often can feel our own lives and struggles outside our numbness

if given a bit of distance/perspective. All of us have exceptional

things to express.  Moments that have touched us deeply. I see access

to these memories as being our only limit. 

Do we believe we are artists and philosophers? 

Do our lives have meaning?

Do we have something to say?



‘Meteoric’ Neil Marcus, Sketch from Superfest Film Festival SPSU, 2016 


After the evening show, we have the Q and A with the audience and in front of 200 people, a woman asks me: “What kind of woman do you like, I mean you say you are a lover and all. I was just wondering?”   I fumble A LOT and say “friendly ones” then “next question please.” Matt makes a joke saying, “what’s your phone number?” He continues, “You have such perfect timing Neil and such control. Is there anything you can tell others to help them?”  I answer, “Well…to appreciate ones body no matter what it does or doesn’t do, helps.” 

During the night and the next day, I think about that first question. I think about who I am, the position I’m in and what I’m doing.  Part of it is FEEDBACK. It’s sustenance. I’ve created a situation. Me performing audience. Inspired dialogue. It’s a situation where no matter what I think, act or do, I cannot fail. It’s failsafe. Because I’m always out there doing my best. WOW. And I usually always get applause. What does this tell me?  I’m telling you this because I think it is to be a model of physical therapy. Emotional therapy. Self help.

foot 2

A dancer’s foot. My foot.

In an oral history interview of artists with disabilities, using the technology of ‘instant messaging’ I was able to articulate:


                                                        â€œMedusa” by Neil Marcus. Touch pad art. 2012

Neil Marcus66<!– (11:00:58 AM)–>: I’m a human bridge in a moment of time spanning as far and as relevant as my thoughts will carry me
Esther – (11:04:58 AM)–>: I’m a human bridge in a moment of time, spanning as far and as relevant as my thoughts will carry me.


“disability/ disabled”: an un quantifiable concept, immeasurable, non-poetic, medicalized word that represents no thing or no body EXCEPT as a idea in need of revolution.

The concept of “Disability” is non sustainable.

love joy art …sustainable self renewing   

I listen to the waves at the seashore and watch them roll in. in and out. They never stop.
My mind wanders. I think of love. I smell the sea life air. I think of grains of sand slipping through my wet toes. I think of starry nights and streaming comets and glowing rounded moons. I think of thousands of fishes that will run with the tides at a certain season and time each year.
There are moments in my life when everything is so completely and totally understandable, all I can do is gasp in wonder and cry a special brand of joyous tear and try to tell someone all about it.
There is a postcard that I TREASURE. I found it in a postcard store in 1984. It totally says a lot of what I want to say. Maybe it says everything! !
the card stock is braille with braille dots as the postcard “scene” thats raised little “bumps”on a white background. The effect is that you are sending this postcard to someone and its so complete that at first glance…it seems like nothing is there. To a sighted person, the card seems blank. It’s all white.
Turn it over. In very small print it says ,
”I often imagine myself being here. Sitting on the beach, listening to the waves, feeling the salty air upon my face and tongue. Everything seems possible. i wish you were here”
so.. it’s not blank. The front is the poem translated into braille. Touch. speaks a language that is very real but is little known.  What could be more communicative than a fingers touch.
And the artistic statement is so strong. my words don’t do it justice.


Neil Marcus is a Spastic artist and performer living in Berkeley, California, USA. His books include Special Effects: Advances in Neurology (2011), and Cripple Poetics: A Love Story (2010), and The Princess and the Dragon  (a disabled fable) (unpublished). His most performed play is Storm Reading (1988).

Major Influences:

100 million miracles [flower drum song] Dir. Gene Kelley

easy rider

the mothers of invention

re evaluation counseling

love revolution

Cyrano de Bergerac

performance art





human liberation


body as art

disable/d liberation


idea … weaving

At age 13 I began learning co-counseling. Theories of liberation and oppression. This enriched my thinking. My world. I could live. I could give. I could love. I had a brush with which to touch-up the world.  Ideas popping. I was radicalized. I had a vibrant self. I had expression. I had raves. 


Filming: “disability/disabled country”

Smithsonian video by Neil Marcus/filmed and edited by Jai Jai Noire,

National Museum of American History, 1987/2014

Photo by Gary Ivanek


Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner, described by Katie Murphy. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely.

In this our fourth chapter, Dee Heddon and Sue Porter discuss the reframing of walking practices for wheelchair-bound participants, along with ideas of interdependency.

Audio Description of images in Walking Interconnections


It is the summer of 2012 and Dee is walking across Belgium with The Walking Library, a library filled with books considered good to take for a walk and carried on foot. The Walking Library is an artwork created for Sideways festival, a month- long peripatetic festival aiming to renew attention to the ‘slow paths’ – the underused and thus endangered network of footpaths crossing the country – by walking some 334 km along them. 1

In a tent in a field somewhere in the Flanders region Dee’s phone accesses wifi and emails are downloaded. One of them is from Alison Parfitt, a collaborator with Dee in a 2010 research network which explored site-specific performances’ relationship with environmental change. Alison introduces Dee to her friend and colleague, Dr. Sue Porter, a researcher at the University of Bristol. Sue is in the process of putting together an interdisciplinary research grant application for a project which would explore disabled people’s everyday experiences of landscape and environment to surface everyday wisdoms and expertise. Sue’s interest in using walking as a research method had prompted Alison to connect then, given Dee’s enduring interest in walking art. 2 From the tent in the field in Belgium, battling the erratic internet connection, Dee sends Sue an email, signalling her enthusiasm.


In 2014, the project Walking Interconnections: Researching the Lived Experience of Disabled People for a Sustainable Society was launched. Walking Interconnections, led by Sue Porter, was a year-long interdisciplinary study that responded to the demonstrable lack of connection between disability and environmental movements. More pointedly, it was motivated by the marginalization of disabled people within and by environmentalist discourse, which most often presumes, figures and reiterates a normative, undifferentiated and able-bodied subject, revealing what Sarah Jacquette Ray identifies as a “corporeal unconscious”. The ‘environmental subject’ is one who is independent, self-sufficient, fit and healthy. 3 Walking Interconnections took walking as its primary methodology in part because it is immersive and fosters convivial exchanges, 4 but more importantly because placing walking at the centre challenged a corporeal unconscious which figured the ‘walking’ body as a body walking upright on two feet. As one of our co-researchers, Liz Crow – a wheelchair user – commented on the Walking Interconnections blog in June 2013, she bit her ‘tongue at the word walking (because I’m not, am I?)’. Notably, six months further into the project, Crow’s use of the word walking, though still hesitant, indicates an importantly expanded signification:

Speaking personally, so many years of medical history have been of
doctors telling me I should walk – that is, functionally, place one foot in
front of the other in order to move from one point to another. In almost 30 years of using a wheelchair, I’ve never yet seen a doctor who understood that that’s not what walking ever represented to me. It was moving through space, connecting with natural and social environments, relationships, meditation, relaxation, pleasure, mental health, tactility, and more. Those are the really important features of walking and it remains all of those things when I ‘walk’ with wheels. 5

Walking Interconnections emerged from an earlier scoping essay by Porter and her academic colleague David Abbott. 6 In this, the authors asked whether physically disabled peoples’ experiences might enable them to become valuable contributors to planning initiatives directed towards environmental hazard, rather than marginalized by the dominant perception of disabled people as singularly vulnerable. The authors didn’t deny that disabled people were vulnerable – that is, ‘disproportionately affected by the consequences of all kinds of natural and human made hazards’ 7 – but their contention was that such vulnerability is a product of neglect (for example, structural attitudes position disabled people as the least worth saving) and also by design (the needs – and skills – of disabled people are not fully acknowledged – for example, planning responses are often ablest in their assumptions, privileging normative notions of bodily abilities).

Seeking to problematize the perception of vulnerability, Abbott & Porter
proposed an alternative hypothesis, one paying attention to disabled people’s ‘intricate, daily negotiations with risk, hazard and barriers’. 8 As they argue, ‘disabled people may have lived experiences which bestow expertise which could significantly contribute to discussions about and planning for environmental risk’. 9 Walking Interconnections aimed to identify such expertise in order that it could be recognized and valued and could contribute to wider discussions around sustainability.

Over the course of a year, a research team worked with 19 co-researchers
from Bristol who self-identified as either physically disabled or environmental activist – tellingly, only one co-researcher self-identified as both. Each co-researcher was asked to invite another co-researcher to accompany them on a walk of their choice. Walking pairs were often also accompanied by Personal Assistants and/or assistance dogs. A variety of walking aids were used, from a trike, to scooters and sticks. Each walking pair carried a digital voice recorder. More than 20 hours of audio material, mostly recorded on the move, was transcribed and edited and re-recorded into a 30-minute verbatim audio play-reading, ‘Going for a Walk’. This can be downloaded from the project’s website; here, I offer just a few extracts taken from across different scenes. 10

Jane: Have you got a walk in mind?
Hayley: Yes, Baydock Woods. There’s quite a few little walks round there, but there is one on the level up round the top, which you can basically just go round in a circle.
Neil: I was thinking about walking round my allotment site.
Hayley: Are there places to sit?
Neil: Good question. Not readily, no, there are not.
Jane: Has it got a path?
Neil: Yes, there’s a path.
Jane: Tarmacked?
Neil: Not tarmacked, ehm, a combination of sort of hard sort of gravel and grass.
Hayley: And level?
Neil: There’s a very slight incline, as you go up, but nothing.
Hayley: Nothing major. Neil: Yeah, pretty much level.
Sue: Well what you find with disabled people is that they have to plan very
meticulously if they don’t want to get caught out. This is why I chose this
walk today. We came and reccied it after our meeting and made sure I
could see where I could get on.
Sharon: So from the bridge if you go up the hill it takes you somewhere else. But it’s a bit steep and I don’t think the buggy will manage it very well, and it’s a bit rockety so I don’t think we will go up there.
Tony: There’s this bridge, that’s a footbridge, so these are all footpaths, these purple colored things on the map, so we could maybe investigate that?
Sue: As long as we’ve got some options in case it doesn’t work.

Julie: The reason I’ve chosen this walk today is, one, they’ve got good facilities. Obviously you’ve got the café, and the toilets for disabled which you can access them with a radar key, most of the footpaths are quite level, and obviously it’s good for Billie to run around and there’s various walks to do with Blaise Castle. I’ve chosen this walk because we can go, almost complete it.
Dale: I like walking around the dock area. It’s a big, wide open space and there’s lots of different things to look at, like boats, and ships and the harbor side. And for me it expresses the freedom of walking. Because you don’t get a lot of traffic down there, it’s much easier and accessible for people like myself.
Sharon: I chose this one because I’d been there before. It’s quite a nice walk. It’s not too far, and they have loads of lovely trees and there’s always people in there walking their dogs and it’s just very peaceful in there.
Sue: I think I chose it because I knew it was flat. And you’ve chosen it to
accommodate me, really.
Tony: Partly, but I just like somewhere near water. I think anywhere near water I quite like.

Glenise: Ah, there’s steps up here. […]
Julie: Sometimes, people take things for granted. All the walks here aren’t fully accessible.
Anais: Clearly you wouldn’t go through there?
Julie: You wouldn’t, because of the dip. […] We couldn’t go up to the mill. That’s one of the things that we couldn’t access. There’s going to be other things.
Anais: For example, going to the path on the left, which is too steep.
Julie: Yes, too steep.
Liz: Ok, so we’ve come past the nature reserve and got onto a track that we were both getting really quite enthusiastic about, it’s one of those very sustainable tracks, tramped down earth and my trike has coped just about with the loose gravel surface on it. And beyond this gate we’ve come to what looks lovely, real potential for open countryside but we’ve
come to one of those kissing gates which is impassable. I would probably
get stuck in and left there because I think I would get wedged. And
there’s a lovely big gate next to it – but unfortunately that’s padlocked – so
that’s the end of this route. So – now we are going to backtrack.


Key aspects of the transformation towards sustainability are the abilities to cope with and adapt to new challenges arising from changing environments. 11 Going for a Walk reveals repeated practices of planning, mitigation, risk taking, deviation, adaptability, problem solving, persistence, commitment, attentiveness and creativity and interdependency. The dominant discourse of ‘independence’, particularly as this is attached to the field of disability policy and practices, belies the reality and necessity of interdependence – interdependence offering alternative and useful conceptions of ‘sustainable living’. Repeatedly observed in our project were interdependencies’ attendant practices, including trust, negotiation, collaboration, reciprocity, mutuality, and co-operation. The inter, we suggest, is surely part of an environmental ethic, contesting as it does the story of the subject as self-sufficient and singular. Whilst interdependency is perhaps more apparent because more explicit in the relationships of (some) disabled people (some of the time), Judith Butler has insisted that as ‘socially constituted bodies’, ‘we are fundamentally dependent on others’. 12 Vulnerability and interdependency are two sides of the same ontological coin, far removed from the idea of the ‘masterful’, omnipotent subject. Borrowing from Butler again, greater recognition of our ‘inevitable interdependency’ might very well provide the sustaining grounds for what she calls a ‘global political community’. 13 Such sustaining grounds are surely the foundations for sustainability? Acknowledging our vulnerability might just allow all of us to practice our interdependency better, a process of resilience necessary to sustaining a diversity of assembled lives, human ones included.


Dr. Sue Porter died suddenly on 11 January 2017. Nevertheless, this piece of
writing is interdependent, the product of conjoined labor, written and rewritten as a collaborative act. The ‘I’ is a ‘we’. I last saw Sue in July 2016. She gifted me a book for The Walking Library for Women Walking. The book was Examined Life: Excursions with Contemporary Thinkers. 14 Sue wrote:

The reason I chose the Examined Life book was particularly for the
chapter that is the walk Sunaura Taylor and Judith Butler take in San
Francisco – where we hear what makes a city inclusive and therefore
accessible, in city planning terms and, more importantly for me, the
exchange between these walkers on the ideas of ‘what a body does’. They speak to me of the importance of ‘belonging’ and the value of asking again and again, ‘who is it that belongs here?’ I also love hearing the relationship that evolves between them, the gaze, the touching, the making of a shared pace.

Dee Heddon holds the James Arnott Chair in Drama at the University of
Glasgow. She is the author of numerous books, essays and articles, many of
which engage with walking as an aesthetic practice.

Sue Porter was a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Policy Studies,
University of Bristol. Sue wrote widely about disability, justice and equality. She lived her life as a scholar, an activist and an artist.



Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner, described by Katie Murphy. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely.

In this our third chapter, the CSPA reports on the DISART SYMPOSIUM, a gathering of thinkers and makers discussion access and the arts In Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2017.

Audio Description of CSPA Reports: DisArt Symposium pictures

The Dis Arts Festival & Symposium was held April 6-8, 2017, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The event combined performances and an exhibition with a 3-day symposium, gathering a broad spectrum of artists who create from a disabled perspective, or who engage with concepts of disability.

Keynote speakers included Riva Lehrer, an artist, writer and curator– known for her complex portraits, which were featured in an accompanying exhibition—and Sara Hendren, an artist, design researcher, and professor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Each day of the event was framed with a theme: Identity, Design and Community. The Quarterly was able to attend April 7th, “Design,” and witness other talks via the event’s live stream.

Sara Hendren spoke about her individual design work, as well as her work with the adaptation + ability group at Olin College. That groups’ work begins with an assertion, “We presume competence. This exhortation is a central one in disability rights circles, and we proceed with it in mind as we work with our design partners. We don’t claim our end-users are ‘suffering from’ their conditions—unless they tell us they are. We speak directly to users themselves, not to caregivers or companions—unless we’re directed to do so. We speak the way we’d speak to anyone, even if our partners don’t use verbal language in return—until they request we do otherwise.” The resulting works included engineering for eating utensils, ramps with kinetic lights, and an acoustic mobility device. Hendren’s individual work involves explorations of ramps and their cultural presence, among many other things.

Beth Bienvenue, the director of the Office of Accessibility at the National Endowment for the Arts, discussed that organizations’ recent efforts to support disabled artists and projects pushing ideas of accessibility. Artist Benedict Phillips discussed growing up dyslexic and the tremendous impact it had on his worldview, leading him to create hilarious works like “The Div,” (“It is berleevd that some were between 90% and 95% of the populasion of the UK are Lecksick. These people fined it hard to spell in interesting ways and are genraly exskloodid from dislecksick culcher.”)

The space of the DisArts symposium was carefully considered according to a variety of needs. In the main hall, sign language interpreters translated all the speakers, who were also broadcast via a closed-captioned live feed. Visitors could watch the live feed from a lobby with couches and fidget spinners—for families and other folks who have a hard time being quiet or sitting still—or from a deliberately quiet corner that looked onto the stage from a window. Snacks and hot drinks were available throughout the day. The result was a cozy, welcoming, multifaceted space, less intimidating—but no less rigorous—than the average conference setting.

Friday evening’s symposium concluded with performances by Kris Lenzo and performance legend Terry Galloway, known for her performance work “Tough” and her book “Mean Little Deaf Queer.”

DisArt began as a collaboration with Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) and Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) in the spring of 2014, and is now a 501(c)(3) organization. In presenting its symposium and festival, and offering consulting on disability access, the organization promotes a social model of disability, which “looks at cultural environments (physical and social) as the main sources of disabling practices. . . people are disabled by the cultural stereotypes and misconceptions heaved on to them by nondisabled standards of health and wellness; they are disabled by attitudinal and architectural barriers.”

Photo credit: Eric Bouwens Photography