Down syndrome drag show kicked out of venue

ArtPrize

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The owner of a Grand Rapids venue says a drag show featuring performers who have Down syndrome cannot be held at his building.

Drag Syndrome will still perform Sept. 7 on the first day of Project 1 by ArtPrize, DisArt, the local group facilitating the show, said Thursday. It’s not yet clear where.

The show was supposed to be held at Tanglefoot off of Straight Avenue SW south of Butterworth Street, which Peter Meijer owns. Meijer is the grandson of Meijer stores co-founder Frederik Meijer and a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress seat currently held by Rep. Justin Amash, lately an independent.

DisArt released an Aug. 19 letter that Meijer sent to ArtPrize in which he wrote that “after deep reflection on the nature of Drag Syndrome’s performance, I cannot approve of their use of Tanglefoot’s facilities,” citing concerns about the “potential exploitation of the vulnerable.”

DisArt, a Grand Raids group that works to connect art and people with disabilities, said in response that to exclude the group “is discrimination, it is self-preservation, it is exploitation for political gain. It is not protection.”

The group also pointed out that this is the first time Meijer has been involved in approving or denying a show at his building.

In a statement posted on its website, ArtPrize said it “has always supported free artistic expression by all participants and has not denied or screen individuals. Consistent with this, we believe it would be inappropriate to limit the participation of performers who have Down syndrome.”

ArtPrize says it will hold a panel and public conversation regarding the situation Friday at 1 p.m. at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Project 1, a public art event being held in place of the ArtPrize competition this year, will run Sept. 7 to Oct. 27.

Meijer’s full letter:

peter meijer letter on drag syndrome
Peter Meijer’s letter to ArtPrize regarding the Drag Syndrome show that was scheduled to be held at Tanglefoot, which he owns. (Courtesy DisArt)

Full statement from DisArt:

“Today we were informed that Peter Meijer, the owner of Tanglefoot, the venue Drag Syndrome had been guaranteed for Project 1, made a decision that the Artists of Drag Syndrome would not be allowed to perform on September 7, because they have Down syndrome.

“It didn’t matter that these Artists have long-standing, successful, internationally acclaimed careers. It didn’t matter that after founding Drag Syndrome, one of the original members was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II. It didn’t matter that another performer has won a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. It didn’t matter that the artists are also accomplished actors and filmmakers, painters, dancers, singers and most important of all, human beings. None of that mattered in the decision to exclude their performance.

“All that mattered was their disability.  

“‘The differently abled are among the most special souls in our community, and I believe they, like children and other vulnerable populations, should be protected.’ -Peter Meijer

“Exclusion is discrimination, it is self-preservation, it is exploitation for political gain. It is not protection.

“We are deeply saddened, angered and appalled at the decision to exclude Drag Syndrome from a venue they were given, a venue that was built from the ground up by Artists Paul Amenta and Ted Lott who transformed a private, industrial, and inaccessible urban space into an accessible and inclusive public artwork and venue specifically for performances like Drag Syndrome.

“For the past 50 years, in addition to the advocacy that brought the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, a cultural movement has been taking place. Artists with disabilities have been working to raise the voice, visibility and value of all Disabled people. They work around the world, in every artistic medium and represent every form of disability.

“While we are saddened to lose this artwork as the venue, THE SHOW WILL GO ON!

“DisArt WILL protect the artists of Drag Syndrome by protecting their rights. There will be another venue announced soon, and on September 7th, as part of Project 1 by ArtPrize, Drag Syndrome will perform in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We hope you will be there to celebrate, to learn, to grow, and to build a stronger, more inclusive community for all.

“Please visit disartnow.org to learn more, contact us, and show your support.”

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