Group brings deaf arts into spotlight

Group brings deaf arts into spotlight

Group brings deaf arts into spotlight

Deaf Spotlight is a community organization focusing on bringing awareness of deaf arts and culture in the deaf community as well as in the Seattle community as a whole. The group regularly presents presentations on art, poetry slams and plays, tours of art museums and even a film festival directed toward a deaf audience. All presentations are given in American Sign Language with a voice interpreter available for hearing guests.

“Because we’re an invisible handicap, a lot of people learn about it on an as-needed basis. You don’t know we’re deaf until you see us moving our hands,” said Rob Roth, director of Deaf Spotlight. “Basically we’re just trying to open up awareness of deaf culture.”

Its own culture

While many people are beginning to learn about the deaf culture, Deaf Spotlight is pushing it to the forefront. Like most ethnic and minority cultures, the deaf community has its own idioms and jokes, Roth said.

“Many cultures have idioms, and they are based around language. In the deaf culture, it’s based on the use of sign language,” he explained. 

And just like artists from many cultures, some deaf artists use their artwork to bring awareness to the deaf lifestyle. Others may target a deaf audience, and still others may just want to produce art without the context of being deaf.

“Everybody has a creative talent already, and they express that through different outlets, such as writing, acting, painting, gardening,” said Patty Liang, director of the Seattle Deaf Film Festival, which is presented by Deaf Spotlight. “Some emphasize on the deaf culture and experience, but other deaf artists prefer to do their artworks on other topics or different materials without being recognized as a deaf artist, but as a talented artist who happens to be deaf.”

There are symbols in deaf art that stem from deaf culture, according to Roth, that depict a life with no sound. Some of those symbols can be from sign language, or a musical sheet with no notes, or sometimes a skull with no jaw. 

Like other artists, deaf artists speak to their experiences and are looking for understanding from those outside the deaf community.

“Hearing people might think, ‘Oh, you can’t hear — how horrible.’ But some deaf people think, ‘Oh, you hear noise — how horrible!’” Roth said.

New outlets

Deaf artists have been looking for an outlet for a long time, and Roth has been working in Seattle to give them one since the late 1970s, when he was involved in deaf-arts festivals at the Seattle Center and led the Deaf Drama and Arts Program at Seattle Central Community College. 

He’s currently working as the program coordinator for the Advancing Deaf & Hard of Hearing in Computing program at the University of Washington.

This is how Liang met Roth and became involved with Deaf Spotlight and the film festival. After finishing her masters in non-profit management she helped found Deaf Spotlight in 2010 and sits as the committee’s deputy director. 

“We knew we wanted to do something long-term, creating events and opportunities for the deaf community to be involved with arts,” Liang said. 

The film festival was spurred by Liang’s desire to give deaf film directors and artists an outlet, but also, it seems, by her love for the arts community and desire to see artists work together and admire each other’s work.

“We wanted to give the filmmakers an opportunity to show their works to the public and to encourage more collaborations with the emerging and experienced filmmakers, actors and producers,” Liang said. “I always believe that, to build a strong arts community, we need the public, artists and supporters to collaborate together. Without each other, arts won’t succeed or make an impact.”

Upcoming events

Roth will lead a discussion on deaf arts and culture at the Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., on Saturday, Jan. 14, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. The “Illuminations: Expressions in Deaf Art” presentation and will take place in the Howard S. Wright Family & Janet W. Ketcham Meeting Room 2 on the fourth level.

The Seattle Deaf Film Festival takes place March 30 through April 1 at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall.

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