Ramapo’s Office of Specialized Services (OSS) hosted its inaugural OSS Arts Expo last Wednesday in celebration of Disability Awareness Month. The exposition took place in the Berrie Center at what used to be Curtain Call Café, but is now a free space for everything from live performances to pop-up art galleries.
OSS offers academic support to students with physical, sensory, learning or psychological disabilities. The office’s aim is to help students gain equal access to their education by providing them with the assistance they need, whether that be note-taking assistance or extra time to take exams.
“This actually started out as an idea from one student last year who wanted to present artwork for Autism Awareness Month, which is in April,” said Disability Counselor Abbe Benowitz. The idea then snowballed when Benowitz and her colleagues realized that a significant number of students would be interested in having their work showcased. The exposition exhibited work from more than 20 OSS students, with a promise to return next year.
The art exposition gave students associated with OSS the opportunity to express themselves in a way that did not focus on their disability.
“Sometimes students with disabilities are just seen as that and they’re identified as such,” said Benowitz. “I think it’s great to give those students an opportunity to be identified in another way or just not identified specifically as a student with a disability.”
Benowitz stressed the importance of events like this that let students get involved in ways they might not have been able to before. The main intention of the event is to spotlight talent without focusing on the artist’s disability, though that might contribute to the process and meaning of their art.
“There are some students whose artwork sort of represents parts of their disability,” said Benowitz. She feels it’s important for OSS students to have a safe space to demonstrate their talent.
“There’s a lot of mediums represented here by a lot of students and what I love is that while every student participating here is affiliated with the Office of Specialized Services, not all of these students are even a part of Contemporary Arts,” said Benowitz.
The remnants of the Curtain Call Café were transformed for the exposition, featuring oil paintings, charcoal drawings, photography and digital art hanging from the walls and set up on easels. There were also papier-mâché sculptures on display.
Short films were showcased on laptops set up on tables lining the walls. The exposition also featured a segment where students read their poetry. Some students even performed their music live with a piano supplied by the Berrie Center. Many participants brought their own guitars to accompany their singing performances as well.
“These are students who have talent, who want to show it,” said Benowitz. “This is a good opportunity to give these students, who may not have had any other avenue to show their talent.”
Featured photo by Jessica Hammer