Accessibility & the Healing Power of Art at SWAN Day Allegany County

“It doesn’t pay to conform—listen to your body. Truly living requires equal parts accommodation and celebration.”                                                                        –Sheila L. Kalkbrenner

Visual Artist and Disability Advocate Sheila L. Kalkbrenner

Visual Artist and Disability Advocate Sheila Kalkbrenner

Sheila L. Kalkbrenner, artist and owner of SheilaLynnK Art Studio in upstate New York, is growing SWAN Days Allegany County into a powerful, diverse and truly accessible celebration of women artists. The scope of SWAN Days Allegany Co. is inspiring, with local women artists hosting creative events spanning the entire month of March. Offerings range from an Art Show and Sale, to workshops on rug braiding and tin can folk art, to a Game Night for “artsy families.”

When Kalkbrenner organized her first SWAN Day celebration in 2014, she was inspired by the openness of SWAN Day, and the inherent possibility for inclusion. “I wanted it open to all women artists, working in any media, by whatever inspires them. It can be for women in their 20’s and 30’s who don’t have a place in the art world yet, and also for the strong women already leading our community arts organizations; a place for them to come where we can say ‘thank you—we see the work you do, and we celebrate it today.’”

SWAN Days Allegany Co. Calendar

SWAN Days Allegany Co. has an entire calendar by itself!

Inclusiveness means more to Kalkbrenner than just supporting women—it is also about supporting and uplifting artists with disabilities. A visual artist and arts educator, Kalkbrenner’s life was transformed in 2007 when a medical injury left her with the severe, chronic and debilitating condition Spinal Adhesive Arachnoiditis. As part of her ongoing healing journey, Kalkbrenner now uses art as both a healing tool for herself and as the basis for her larger advocacy effort, Art for Arachnoiditis, which works to empower Spinal Arachnoiditis survivors through participation in art. She is also passionate about raising awareness for this condition, which is most often caused by medical injury.

To support the many free events sponsored by the SheilaLynnK Art Studio, including SWAN Days, one of Kalkbrenner’s projects is a set of hand-drawn Wellness Meditation Coloring Pages. In the style of the newly popular “coloring books for adults,” these coloring pages have special power and meaning both for Kalkbrenner and many who may use them:

Wellness Meditation Coloring Pages

“ When I’m drawing these pages—and I do it sometimes in doctors’ waiting rooms, or when I need to be horizontal at home—it is like a moving meditation. It can be hard to break out of the pain cycle when you live with chronic pain, but the creativity and the meditative quality of the movement of drawing helps me shift my focus and regain control. People with chronic pain who are coloring these pages can find some of that same relief.”

See a video about this project, or download all 15 pages for yourself (or a friend!) for $15, and help support SWAN Days Allegany Co. and Art for Arachnoiditis (a project fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts.)

Despite living with daily pain and many physical challenges and limitations, Kalkbrenner is passionate and focused about creating an inclusive community and uplifting those around her. SWAN Days Allegany Co. is proving a powerful tool for reaching out to the larger community of artists in Upstate New York.

SWAN Days Creative Wellness Circle

SWAN Days Creative Wellness Circle

“In addition to supporting artists, eliminating isolation through creative community activities promotes wellness for all who participate. Because of my personal situation, it’s hard to go out to events, so I’m bringing people into my circle instead. One of the SWAN Days events, The Creative Wellness Circle (this Saturday, March 19th from 1-2:30pm), best represents the unity—the community—I’m trying to create. It focuses on physical and spiritual wellness, bringing creative people together to talk about these things.”

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