“It’s more than just self expression. … This is also a potential source of income for people,’’ he said. “We’re not paying people’s rent on a monthly basis, but a couple of hundred bucks for medical supplies or pharmaceuticals. That’s a big deal for somebody fresh out of the hospital with a spinal cord injury.”
He had hoped one day to replicate the concept in other cities.
After a visit to Miami Beach for the winter, he decided to stay. Rise Up Gallery in Jersey City is now being run by a fellow artist who also is disabled. Weather, he said, is an important factor for people with disabilities. After his accident, preparing to go outside in winter was a production. He would roll around on his bed putting on layers of clothing. By the time he was finished, he was too tired to go out.
McCauley also saw in Miami a community that had strong roots in the arts and healthcare.
“It’s a really well-established community of people with disabilities already,” he said, noting the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, Shake-A-Leg Miami and Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital. “So I thought hey, I could be the person that brings art into the mix.”
In 2010, Miami was named one of the top 20 best cities in America for people with disabilities by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Cities were rated based on wheelchair accessibility, access to fitness facilities and recreation, percentage of people living with disabilities who are employed and access to paratransit.
Veronica Lopez, one of the three artists sitting with McCauley, said that a year ago this May, she was enjoying motorcycle riding with a group of friends. She does not remember what happened next. Friends told her that she hit a guardrail, and her body was somehow wedged between the bike and guardrail as the bike kept going, damaging her spinal chord.
At 34, the single mother of three could no longer walk.
Travis Downing, 27, was in a head-on car crash a year ago, and spent two months at Jackson. The former football player for Tennessee State University can move his arms and hands and now lives on his own in North Miami.
“We can uplift ourselves and share those stories. How do you go to the bathroom? Do you have a girlfriend? All these things. If you can air it out with people who are in the exact same situation as you, it makes it that much easier. Anything positive you can take away from this situation is a good thing.”
Then there’s the chance to produce art that hangs in a gallery.
“It’s a big deal to come into a gallery in Wynwood and see your art hanging on the wall,” McCauley said. “It’s very empowering.”