Community Engagement

How a disability-led global art project is making history

Photo credit: My Dearest Friends Project

The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for individuals and communities worldwide – especially disabled people. The day-to-day complexities of disability have worsened amid the economic recession, business closures, community isolation and risk of “long COVID.”

For disabled artist Oaklee Thiele, this time of change and isolation became an opportunity. As disabled people became increasingly immersed in digital spaces during COVID, they discovered those same spaces could become a way to share their stories with the world. Thiele partnered with DisArt to launch My Dearest Friends Project and bring this vision to life.

My Dearest Friends Project aims to collect stories from the disability community to preserve and normalize their experiences and change cultural narratives that have worked against disabled individuals. The project also gives voice to and documents the experiences and stories of disabled people during the worldwide pandemic. Launched in 2020, MDFP has become a growing disability-led global art collaboration and artist movement.

People are invited to submit written, audio, and video observations detailing their experiences with, reactions to, and thoughts on the reality of COVID-19. The stories, collected from all over the world, have appeared in public art projects to amplify the unique voices and experiences of disabled people. At the 2021 ArtPrize festival, Thiele’s striking black-and-white illustrations were enlarged and hung on the outside of the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Watch the project trailer here. 


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