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April 25th, 2007 Kyle Cassidy | News Stories
 

The art of a good vent

Disabled activist on a roll against PDX's art community.

     
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Artist Carole Patterson's print of herself
Award-winning artist Carole Patterson can't get her fire-engine-red electric scooter into many of the Portland galleries where she'd like to show her photography and woodblock printing. And she's sick of places not being in compliance with federal disability guidelines.

"This kind of bullshit is not going to continue while I'm here," says the 41-year-old Patterson, who's been in a chair the past 28 years because of muscular dystrophy.

Patterson's personality is loud, a plus given that she must be heard over a ventilator that pumps air in and out through a trach tube in her neck. Although her muscle tissue is so weak that she can no longer go to the toilet alone and needs both her hands to lift a coffee cup, Patterson is far from dependent.

Before she moved to Portland from Eugene last year, she won local awards for her art. And her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Portland Monthly and Country Living magazine. She's also a passionately in-your-face activist. Patterson has traveled from Beijing to Morocco and is an openly bisexual flirt ("It's great to be on a vent when you're giving a blowjob because you can get your air without having to go through your nose or mouth," she says) who speaks five different languages and loves dancing.

But Patterson has made an unpleasant discovery in her ostensibly progressive new hometown, which has a supposedly progressive arts community: She can't attend showpiece art destinations downtown because many don't provide wheelchair access.

She estimates being shut out from at least 30 percent of the Portland galleries she's visited because of wheelchair inaccessibility. Among them: the Everett Station Lofts, a can't-miss for black-clad hipsters, booze-sippers and art junkies alike during Portland's public First Thursday events.

Everett Station's 16 galleries open to the public on First Thursdays remain inaccessible to Patterson due to a 1-inch step and a lip just before the door of each. Patterson says she contacted Everett Station manager Dave Haygood each month since August about installing wheelchair-access ramps at all the doors to the studio galleries.

Her insistence finally appears to have paid off, since Haygood tells WW he's decided to move forward on the ramps. Haygood says 10 of the 16 galleries will be accessible by next First Thursday on May 3, and by June 7 on the the other six.

Patterson remains unhappy.

"Why is it OK for Everett Lofts to take more than nine months to resolve something that should have taken 24 hours?" asks Patterson. She says she didn't consider legal action because she thinks accessibility issues "should be settled by humans through education and conversation, not lawyers."

According to All In One Mobility, a mobility-product wholesaler in Portland, the 1-inch threshold ramps needed to make the galleries accessible would cost no more than $49.95 per unit.

Everett Lofts isn't the only art institution on Patterson's radar. Patterson says fringy and emerging art organizations that hold concerts or experimental film screenings at homes are the worst offenders, with at least half of the commercial galleries having no wheelchair access.

"The shocking thing to me," says Patterson, "is that people in Portland seem to think access is optional."


A reception for Patterson's exhibit this mortal coil takes place during Last Thursday, 6-9 pm April 26, at Enterbeing, 1603 NE Alberta St., 808-0385.
 
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