Read on to learn about Fred, a staff member of the SpArc Cultural Arts program. At work, you might run into the versatile Fred at our community studio at Cherry Street Pier, the SpArc Philadelphia building, or on the virtual program, where he pioneered the Disability Visibility class.
Tell us about your background in the arts. What made you come to love the arts, and how did you know it was something you wanted to pursue?
I seem to remember that I was in preschool and I gravitated towards art after facing some difficulty fitting in while doing other activities. Drawing was a little bit of a safe haven for me, and it has been that way ever since.
I worked a lot on art all through my childhood, ended up going to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and then transferring to the Art Institute of Chicago, where I got my BFA. While at the Art Institute, I also attended a residency called Ox Bow in Saugatuck, MI--twice. In 2017 I moved to Philadelphia.
How do you put your arts background to work at SpArc?
At first it was kind of just in the background, because I was very aware of the fact that there are so many other responsibilities associated with the job, from maintaining a safe environment to assisting people with their daily living.
However, once I became more comfortable in the job, I realized that art is just as important as anything else. Art is what makes us human. Everybody has it in different ways, whether it be making pictures or simply altering conditions in their environment-- we all have this need to make a lasting impact upon the world we live in.
Favorite SpArc memory?
Probably the Fringe Festival play we did. It was amazing how everything came together. My dad is an actor, but I rarely get to be behind the scenes because I chose a slightly different path in life. However, this play reminded me of the excitement that I would feel from when he did bring me to his job and I saw behind the illusion of theater.
Disability Visibility, a class you created, is a popular session on the virtual program through SpArc Services. Can you tell us about it, and how you got the idea?
It actually came from a discussion I was having with my wonderful coworker Camille. I had been doing a class about how to use the internet which wasn’t working out. I think probably because that is something you can learn along the way to learning something else. Anyway, I’m not sure how she came up with the idea, but it clicked with me right away because it sounded like a challenge to me but something that would be rewarding. I didn’t know much about disability advocacy aside from what I had learned on the job at SpArc, but now I research it every week.
What is your favorite thing about the virtual program?
Overall, it is the feeling of camaraderie and like everyone is included. Also, that every day includes moments of learning, reflection, and affirmation, but also fun, silliness, and goofiness-- all in one continuum.
For Disability Visibility specifically, it has been our amazing special guests who donated their time to meet us virtually. Almost everyone stayed for the entire hour and none of them were paid. Some of the people we met were a professor who advocates and researches about having a disability in space, a world traveler who invented a mobility device that you can use in hiking through the jungle, and people with disabilities in other countries.
What have you learned from working at SpArc?
I have learned that art doesn’t fit into schematics that you can learn in art history books. Although those terms are important for describing art and recognizing the accomplishments of long-dead individuals, there is something ineffable about creative inspiration that you have to get a grasp on in order to work in this environment.
You also are a working artist -- tell me about the art that you make.
Currently I make paintings and drawings of urban environments and scenes I have witnessed around Philly. I have work in the current issue of Welcome to Chili’s, a zine my friend makes in my hometown of Chicago (https://www.wtczine.com/,) and my website is www.fredjhenzel.com.