Exhibition of alumnus' work celebrates anniversaries of ADA, "King Gimp" documentary

By Rebecca Kirkman on September 24, 2020

"Dan Keplinger: Public/Private Conversations" runs through Oct. 20 at Towson Town Center, online

Dan Keplinger in front of window display of his artwork
Dan Keplinger ’98, ’03, ’07 visits the exhibition of his work at Towson Town Center. “Public/Private Conversations” spans two decades of Keplinger’s work.

Two decades ago, the Oscar-winning short documentary “King Gimp” thrust Dan Keplinger ’98, ’03, ’07 into the spotlight. Written by Keplinger, who has cerebral palsy, the film follows the artist’s life from age 13 to his graduation from Towson University with a bachelor’s degree.

In recognition of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Towson University’s Department of Art + Design, Art History, Art Education and Department of Occupational Therapy & Occupational Science partnered with the Towson Town Center to mount an exhibition of Keplinger’s work.

Public/Private Conversations,” curated by art history professor J. Susan Isaacs, runs from Sept. 22 to Oct. 20 at Towson Town Center and online.

The celebration aims to engage many overlapping communities in the greater Towson area through the exhibition and accessible events and workshops.

“We need art in our lives now more than ever before,” says Regina Carlow, dean of the College of Fine Arts & Communication. “It helps us to reflect, brings us together, and as in this case, amplifies a powerful perspective that connects to our shared humanity. We’re looking forward to exploring future opportunities at Towson Town Center for our students to shine.”

Virtual programming coordinated by the Department of Occupational Therapy & Occupational Science and the TU Community Art Center is open to the public, highlighting adaptive solutions for participation in the arts and awareness of inclusion and accessibility options.

A virtual screening of “King Gimp” and a panel discussion will be held on Oct. 6.

“As a person with a disability, I do not rely on technology for communication,” says Keplinger in his artist statement. “Instead, my art is my voice. I know my thoughts might be hidden in my millions of words. That is why my art is not for decoration but to start conversations.”

Keplinger, who first discovered a passion for art as a student at Parkville High School, uses an adaptive headpiece to work in various mediums.

“Public/Private Conversations” spans two decades of the artist’s work in a range of media, including mixed media, etching, printmaking and digital. “His works are powerful,” says Isaacs, who taught Keplinger and worked on his MFA show in 2007. “Over time his work has become more vocal in terms of the disability community. It shifted from being very much autobiographical to autobiographical but with much more personal information about his concerns.”

The exhibition came to life through collaboration and partnerships within the university and throughout the greater Towson community.

“We are thrilled to partner with Towson University as the host of Dan Keplinger’s incredible works of art,” says Emily Brophy, senior general manager of Towson Town Center. “As we celebrate the anniversary of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the premiere of ‘King Gimp,’ we welcome our community to the center to view Dan’s inspirational collection of work. Our hope is that the exhibition will help to broaden the discussion surrounding the inclusion of those with disabilities.”

In addition to an accessible exhibition of Keplinger’s work hosted at Towson Town Center, an audio-described and closed-captioned version of the exhibition and accompanying programming was developed with support from the College of Fine Arts & Communication, College of Health Professions, Accessibility & Disability Services (ADS), Office of Inclusion & Institutional Equity and the Office of the Provost. Additional funding was provided by BTU—Partnerships for Greater Baltimore and the Kaplan Fund.

The exhibition gives the university a chance to bring attention to a graduate that has made an impact in the community, says Leah Cox, vice president of inclusion and institutional equity.

“We are so excited to highlight and support a TU alum who is an incredible artist and who reminds us that our identity shapes all of us in many wonderful ways,” Cox says. “His voice through his art is powerful and inclusive. He is the true example of how and why diversity enriches all of us.”

Originally scheduled for April 2020 but postponed due to the novel coronavirus, “Public/Private Conversations” has been reimagined to prioritize health and safety. The exhibition and all associated programming may be experienced virtually, and the installation at Towson Town Center flows through multiple storefront windows on the second and fourth floors. This setup allows visitors to view the art at their own pace and facilitates physical distancing.

Safety measures at Towson Town Center include mandatory facial coverings, hand-sanitizing stations, touch-free interactions, frequent and intense cleanings, social distancing directions and a new filtered air system that captures airborne viruses.

Attend an event

Learn more about art and the disability community by joining in “Public/Private Conversations” programming:

  • My Art is My Voice: “King Gimp” (1999) Documentary & Conversation
    Tuesday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m. E.D.T.
    “King Gimp” (1999), an award-winning short documentary about the inclusion of children with disabilities, follows TU alumnus Dan Keplinger for 12 years of his life. A screening of the film will be followed by a conversation with Keplinger and three TU faculty members critical to his—and the film's—success: Greg Faller, Stuart Stein and Beth Haller. Filmmaker Susan Hadary will introduce the film. Email to arrange accessibility accommodations.
  • ADA in Action: Current Student Perspectives
    Friday, Oct. 9, 2 p.m. E.D.T.
    The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. In a panel, members of Delta Alpha Pi (DAP) will discuss how this law from 1990 impacts students today. DAP is an honor society that recognizes college students with disabilities for their academic achievement and promotes a positive message regarding students with disabilities. Live transcription provided by TU ADS. Other accommodations available upon request by emailing .
  • Assistive Technology: Commercial and Custom Assistive Devices
    Tuesday, Oct. 13, 11 a.m. E.D.T.
    The custom headset used by Dan Keplinger is one example of assistive technology. In this workshop, music- and arts-related assistive technology created by Volunteers for Medical Engineering (VME) will be demonstrated. Additional resources for commercially available devices will be shared. Join us for this inspiring discussion on innovative solutions to promote the arts and technology for persons with disabilities hosted by TU occupational therapy students and The Image Center–VME Program Services. Email atyler@imagemd.org to arrange accessibility accommodations.
  • Accessible Art: Expressive Self-Portraits
    Oct. 16, Facebook video on demand
    In this family friendly workshop, create expressive self-portraits using household items. Dan Keplinger is known for his large, expressive portraiture. For this workshop, TU art education and occupational therapy students have collaborated to develop art activities that include full participation of youth with disabilities and to introduce disability awareness for participants without disabilities.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland, BTU-Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore and Diverse and Inclusive Campus.