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‘Suitcase Stories’ art project created by Yukoners living with disabilities

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A new art installation in Whitehorse aims to give a deeper insight into the lives of people living with disabilities, through a display of open suitcases.

The “Suitcase Stories” installation, opening Tuesday at the Yukon Arts Centre, was created by about 30 people supported by Teegatha’Oh Zheh, a nonprofit organization that works with adults with intellectual disabilities.

Each artist used a suitcase as a sort of blank slate to display things that are meaningful to them and express their personal histories, or their feelings, hopes and fears. Some filled their suitcases with special mementos, drawings or writings.

“I’m calling this ‘everything,'” said Hayley Halushka, one of the artists, about her suitcase.

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“We’ve been writing down things that I do like, and things that I don’t like. For instance, I like to go swinging, when it’s gorgeous out in the summertime. I like to go for bus rides.”

Halushka, who is blind, said she likes “pretty much anything,” except being yelled at by people, and fire drills. Her suitcase is wrapped in a CBC banner because she’s a dedicated listener.

Hailie Halushka of Whitehorse with her suitcase. (Elyn Jones/CBC)

She hopes that her suitcase will allow people to know her a little better.

“It’s just a good project … I’m hoping that they’re gonna love it.”

Eva von Flowtow’s suitcase is lined with purple fabric and bright yellow flowers to give it some colour. It includes a photo from the 1993 World Series, because she’s a big fan of the Toronto Blue Jays. There’s also a straw hat with red braids attached, a reminder of Anne of Green Gables and a trip von Flotow once took to P.E.I.

“She always said you’ve got to have imagination,” von Flotow said of Anne.

Von Flotow’s suitcase has old photos of her, as well as the 1993 World Series-winning Jays. (Elyn Jones/CBC)

Julie Robinson, a community arts producer who helped organize “Suitcase Stories,” said it’s taken about a year to put it all together. She describes it as a way to give people a platform to tell their own personal story — and hopefully spark some recognition and empathy among viewers.

“I want people to understand that people with disabilities are more like us than not like us,” Robinson said.

“I’m hoping that there will be a moment for people when they are looking at these suitcases, that there’ll be some kind of resonance in their heart, that they’ll realize, ‘oh my goodness, this is exactly how I feel. This is exactly how it’s gone for me.'”

Another suitcase in the installation. (Elyn Jones/CBC)

Robinson said there’s still a lot of segregation that happens in society, because it’s “convenient.” She hopes the project challenges those tendencies toward people living with disability, and promotes inclusion.

“It’s convenient for us not to think they’re like us, so we don’t have to befriend them or hire them in our businesses. It’s convenient and easy. And we have a long way to go in terms of including people that are different and celebrating diversity,” she said.

“This is just one small effort to get further along on that road.”

The installation is described as the first part of what will be a “multi-media exploration of the intersection of art and disability.” A short film involving some of the artists is also being produced.

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