A drag show featuring performers with Down syndrome will not be allowed to use the venue where they were scheduled to perform during ArtPrize's inaugural Project 1.
Businessman and congressional candidate Peter Meijer owns Tanglefoot, a studio on Straight Avenue. According to DisArt, the show’s sponsor, Meijer has serious concerns about the show, which prompted him to cancel it.
"I can't be sure that these are folks that operating under their own agency and neither can an audience," Meijer said.
Organizers say these performers are all able-minded individuals that are capable of making their own decisions.
"Disability is complex, we are not ignorant to that fact, but what we are not willing to do is to let able-ism to truncate the lives of disabled people before they have a chance to say what they want to say," DisArt co-founder Christopher Smit said.
"He quite frankly infantilizes all disabled people as people who need to be protected, as people who do not have agency at all, and we found that to be very discriminatory."
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DisArt is an arts and culture organization dedicated to expressions of disability culture through art.
Drag Syndrome is a U.K. based group made up of drag performers with Down syndrome. They were set to make their United States debut during Project 1.
"They are three professional artists with Down Syndrome who have careers in the Europe market and England in particular in dance and in drag, so we're bringing them here for their first U.S. performance," DisArt co-founder Jill Vyn said.
Drag Syndrome was going to perform alongside other disabled drag performers based out of West Michigan at Tanglewood on Sept. 7.
Meijer said he wasn't aware of the specifics of the show until Sunday.
"When you're talking about a population that has a history of abuse, mistreatment, marginalization and exploitation, the idea that I might be furthering that or contributing to that sickened me," Meijer said.
DisArt says Meijer notified ArtPrize on Monday saying he is canceling the appearance. He wrote a letter Monday to ArtPrize saying, "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.”
Meijer goes on to say, “setting content aside, the involvement of individuals whose ability to act of their own volition is unclear and raises serious ethical concerns that I cannot reconcile.”
DisArt and Beauty Beyond Drag Productions says they are very disappointed with his decision.
"As soon as they saw the art of drag, they wanted to do it and who are we to take that away from them," Beauty Beyond Drag Productions founder Bradley Haas said.
"Other people don't get do decide for these artists or for anyone else if they can participate or not," Vyn said.
DisArt responded in a statement saying many of the artists are very successful with internationally acclaimed careers: “It didn’t matter that the artists are also accomplished actors and filmmakers, painters, dancers and most important of all human beings. All that mattered was their disability.”
Meijer said he reached out to people who had family members with Down Syndrome and members of the LGBTQ and art communities to make his decision.
Meijer is one of the Republicans challenging Rep. Justin Amash (I) for his seat in Congress.
DisArt said they are still trying to secure a venue for their Sept. 7 Disability Drag Show.
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