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Jenel Shaw is a powerhouse with passion for the arts. She is a multi-skilled visual artist, the Liaison Director for the Manitoban Cultural Society of the Deaf, and the Executive Director of the Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba. The AANM supports professional artists who are Deaf and/or disabled from emerging to professional in all art genres including but not limited to: visual arts, performing arts, writing, music, and comedy. With programming consisting of monthly exhibitions /performance opportunities, one-on-one training in writing artist statements, bios, CVs and grant writing, mentorship programs, large festivals, workshops on accessibility in the arts and activities to raise awareness of barriers faced by our artists.

AANM originated in 2008 as a disability art piece project which consisted of two community gatherings at which participants identified the need for an organized alliance of artists with disabilities within all disciplines. SPARK Arts and Disability Network was born formally bringing together artists with disabilities and stakeholders with an interest in promoting accessible arts in Manitoba. To quote one of AANM’s founders Susan Gibson, “Under its original name we wanted to SHARE skills, PROMOTE potential, increase ACCESS, demonstrate RESPECT and KINDNESS for creative professional outliers.” SPARK incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in May 2011 and held its first Annual General Meeting in June 2011. It now operates as Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba. They joined Creative Manitoba and received its Charitable status in 2018. Jenel joined the board of directors of AANM in 2012 and was the vice chair for many years. In 2019 AANM put out a call for a new Executive Director and Jenel’s application was successful!

Jenel’s lived experience as an artist has given her insight into the focus of AANM and the artists they work with. “There have been many experiences that have contributed to my development. The first was being hired as MAWA’s first student intern in 2012. Working with the staff at MAWA illustrated what a healthy and caring work environment was. MAWA was also where I was introduced to AANM. Through AANM, I exhibited my first piece of artwork publicly at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. This was a turning point in my life. At the time I was learning to live with my mental illness and was hesitant to self-identify as disabled because of the stigma that I experienced. Having my artwork in this juried exhibition and working with AANM introduced me to the disability community. I really felt that I had found my adopted family and it was so encouraging to me to meet others who proudly identified as disabled. As a result of these experiences, I decided to peruse a Master’s in Disability Studies. For my final dissertation I wrote about how art and art creation can be empowering for folks with mental illness by examining my experiences.”

Jenel has attended many workshops with Creative MB over the years which has allowed her to learn more about the management side of the arts. “When I first started at AANM in 2019, I had never run an arts organization by myself and felt very much out of my depth. The workshops that I accessed through Creative MB gave me the tools and confidence to not only become competent at my job but to grow our programming and provided even more opportunities for the Deaf and disability communities.” AANM has partnered with Creative Manitoba to create two iterations of Creative Accessibility which has produced 1 panel discussion and 9 workshops focusing on accessibility in the arts.

”Creative MB’s programing has had a significant impact on AANM and how we manage our organization. We met our web designer Don Betts through Creative MB and I have been able to network with other arts professionals which has led to collaborations between our organizations. I also appreciate Creative MB’s commitment to providing workshops and learning opportunities with the Indigenous community which has helped guide AANM to be more inclusive to the wider arts community.” Jenel is fully dedicated to working with AANM for many years to come. Setting goals to find more core funding to expand programming and services, bringing on more permanent staff, and finding a larger office and gallery space. Jenel also plans on continuing the AANM’s advocacy work to help remove barriers faced by Deaf and disabled artists.

I asked Jenel, “What aspect of your work brings you joy?” She responded, “I love all aspects of my work, except for reporting through the CADAC system (I’m sure all arts professionals will agree with me about CADAC). What brings me the most joy is working directly with Deaf and disabled artists to help them advance their careers. While I very much enjoy giving workshops and talks about accessibility and creating programming and exhibition opportunities for our members, it is the one-on-one work that I find the most fulfilling. I feel that I’m able to make a real difference in the lives and careers of our members through this work. I truly feel so lucky to have found a career that I am so passionate for. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I would be able to combine my passion for the arts and accessibility and be paid to do this work. I am forever grateful to both AANM and MAWA for setting me on this path.” Jenel Shaw, on a path to promote the arts built through perseverance and passion.

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