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Minnesota musicians share how disabilities elevate art and culture

Post-Bulletin - 10/29/2023

Oct. 29—ROCHESTER — Gaelynn Lea was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic condition that causes complications in the development of bones and limbs.

As a result, when she learned to play violin, she employed a playing technique similar to a cello player. The result is she plays fiddle unlike any of her contemporary players and has a sound equally unique.

Without that disability, we wouldn't have Lea's music.

The diversity of creativity that artists who have disabilities bring is part of an episode of Twin Cities Public Television's latest episode of Art & Medicine. The episode, "Disability, Culture, and Creativity," airs 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29 on TPT.

Dr. Tseganesh Selameab, one of the hosts of the program, said exploring the issue helped her understand some of the blindspots she had as a doctor. Meeting and hearing from the artists helped her understand their experiences, she said.

"With this artist who's neurodivergent, he can see things my brain cannot," Selameab said. "It's a really empowering thing."

The episode helped her rethink her approach to disabilities as a doctor, she said.

Physicians feel pressure to see "the normal" for their patients.

"If you break your leg, my job is to get you back on your feet," Selameab said. "That attitude can tend toward ableism."

Doctors are trained to be stoic and which can make it hard for them to have empathy to understand the entirety of experiences of disabled patients, said co-host Dr. Jessica Horvath.

Disabled people aren't ooking for medical professionals to "fix" them, Horvath added.

"They want the world to be an accessible place," she said.

That means literally — such as ADA compliant buildings and homes people can age in place — and culturally where artists with disabilities are given the same treatment, access and audiences.

Lea helped curate a group of artists to contribute to the show including Amy Abts, a musician who lived and performed in Duluth and then Seattle before

moving to Rochester for treatment for a rare chronic neurological illness, trigeminal neuralgia.

Abts performs on the episode and shares her experiences of continuing to make art while dealing with her disability. Abts has said it has been an isolating experience.

Another key point Lea said she hopes the episode gets across is that the artists profiled don't create art because they're people with disabilities. They create art because they're human.

"It's not because we're disabled we need art — everyone needs art," Lea said. "Playing violin is good for me no matter what."

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