The National Art Education Association has awarded Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Doug Blandy the 2014 Beverly Levett Gerber Special Needs Lifetime Achievement Award. Blandy also serves as a professor and adviser in the Arts and Administration Program.
The award, determined through a peer review of nominations, recognizes an NAEA member whose exemplary lifetime career has made a unique and lasting impact on art education’s important role in the lives of people with special needs.
"This award is being given to recognize excellence in professional accomplishment and service by a dedicated art educator,” said NAEA President Dennis Inhulsen. “Doug Blandy exemplifies the highly qualified art educators active in education today: leaders, teachers, students, scholars, and advocates who give their best to their students and the profession."
The award was presented at the NAEA national convention in San Diego, California, in March.
Above: Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Doug Blandy
Blandy became interested in disability studies and art education during graduate school, when he volunteered at Gallipolis State Institution in Ohio in the early 1970s, long before disability rights entered the vernacular and changed public awareness. “[Gallipolis] was a state institution for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Blandy said. “It had at least 1,000 residents and was like a prison – it was nothing like what I had experienced growing up.”
As a youngster, Blandy said, “we had a neighbor who offered art classes in his garage, so my parents signed me up—and [the teacher] used a wheelchair. I also had a really good friend when I was growing up who had a sister with developmental disabilities. She was very much a part of the family and part of the community. So my earliest experiences with people with disabilities is that they were part of everyday life, they were part of the community, there wasn’t anything special about it.”
Then he walked through the doors of Gallipolis. “These were people who were separated from their families, the living conditions were in many cases rudimentary, there weren’t a lot of programs although there was an art program I volunteered in. What I experienced at this large institution was that people were being denied access, and part of what they were being denied access to was life in the community but also they were being denied access to education. Because my own area of interest was the arts it was clear that most of the people there were being denied access to the arts, which is unjust. I realized that this was a social justice issue and I thought,’ OK, there’s work to be done here.’ “
After graduation, Blandy taught in a school for children and youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He soon realized that “to truly effect the kind of change I thought was necessary and to contribute significantly to the disability rights movement, I needed to pursue a PhD; my contribution could best be realized through a higher education setting where I could work with people wanting to either become educators or administrators or community arts workers, and to prepare them in a way so they would not perpetuate what I had experienced as part of my undergraduate education and [where they could] investigate ways to make the arts and culture accessible to all people.”
After Blandy earned a PhD in art education from Ohio State University, he chaired the Division of Art Education/Art Therapy at Bowling Green State University. Four years later he joined the UO Department of Art Education, which is now the Arts and Administration Program.
While most of his early research was in disability studies, “it evolved over time beyond a focus on people with disabilities to larger issues around community and access and culture and how to advance culture and ultimately to look at culture as a human rights issue. Working with disability rights introduced me to ideas and issues associated with culture and multiculturalism, and the culture of disability and the aesthetics that can be associated with disability [and] how that theory can be generalized across groups. It is certainly what brought me to the University of Oregon—the [UO Arts and Administration] program has always been unique because it has a multicultural orientation to the arts.”
In his current position as Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Blandy is working “to bring attention to publicly engaged scholarship at the UO and considering ways that such scholarship can be supported. The university belongs to an organization called Imagining America, which is about advancing publicly engaged scholarship in the arts, design, and humanities.”
Blandy’s other positions at UO have been as director of the UO’s Center for Community Arts and Cultural Policy, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, and director of the Arts and Administration Program.
Given his breadth and depth of experience, it’s no surprise that universal design—to provide access to the arts and otherwise—is also one of Blandy’s passions.
“I’m concerned about access because in many cases there might not be access, or because of the disability there may be limited access because of the way they’re being invited into an arts experience,” he said. “So that stimulated my interest in the concept of universal design. What I learned is that in working to create access for people with disabilities, you’re actually creating better access for everybody.”
Which comes back around to what Blandy learned as a kid—that everybody should be invited into the community, and be able to take part in all the community offers. The NAEA award recognizes his longtime leadership and dedication to make this happen.