Making the Arts Accessible for Everyone

As participants in the Arts Access Program, adults with developmental disabilities thrive in dance, drama, fine art, and creative writing.

As an artist, creating art is such an integral part of my life. When I do so, it is liberating and comes from the truest part of me. I believe that the same can be said about the developmentally disabled artists who participate in the Arts Access Program.

I first came to Arts Access as a painting facilitator. The opportunity to assist other artists in experiencing and creating art struck a chord deep within. I felt as if I was meant to be here, and I still do. Working with our clients has been a life-changing experience.

When I came to the program in 2001, I was astounded by the art in the gallery. Then, I met the artists. I have to say that I was intrigued by how they created the work. I was also in awe of the art they created – it was powerful, unpretentious, expressive. As I watched the artists in process, I was struck at how fearless they were when creating their art. They weren’t afraid to experiment and they didn’t seem to have some of the artistic inhibitions that can strike any artist.  They created, and continue to create, from the artistic richness inside of them. I’m honored to be a part of this program that gives them a way to release their creativity.

During those initial days, I worked with and have come to admire many of the Arts Access artists. One of them, Mike Martin, is a Morris Plains neighbor of mine. He is also one of the finest artists I have ever known. I have facilitated painting with Mike and was struck by his focus and attention to detail. When working with him, I would sometimes have trouble determining his “yes” or “no” responses. He indicates “yes” by moving his eyes up and answers “no” with eyes to the side.  It became a running joke between Mike and myself. He was so patient and amused every time I said, “I’m so sorry Mike, but can you show me your “yes” and “no” AGAIN?” 

Mike, who started at Arts Access very early on, has the greatest smile of anyone I know. He began with painting and soon included digital art in his process. He lights up the studio when he comes in to work. He has an affinity for working with darker shades and tones, from blues and grays to browns and purples. His talent and dedication has been on display for many to see. His art has been featured at Grounds for Sculpture, Bernardsville Library, Monmouth Museum and at Full Circle.

Mike is one of the many artists whose work will either be on display or showcased in Full Circle 2012: Unexpected Art. Our annual fine art show, which will take place this Saturday, December 1, 2012, also highlights drama, fine art, dance, and creative writing. The performances and art remove the limitations associated with the disabled population and give the public the opportunity to experience the creations of the Arts Access artists.

Artist Dan Fenelon, who has curated Full Circle for the past 3 years, curates this year’s multi-media fine art show. He has created murals for the Luna Stage Theatre in West Orange, the Montclair Art Museum, and for the Newark Peace Education Summit which featured a visit by the Dalai Lama. Full Circle 2012 is dedicated to former Matheny President Robert Schonhorn. Mr. Schonhorn was active in fostering the arts for adults with developmental disabilities. He was also instrumental in providing a facility in which the process could take place. So we will be honoring his work and his memory.

My work at Arts Access and in the Schonhorn Arts Center, which was named in recognition of Mr. Schonhorn, has taken me from facilitator to assistant director and now director. I came into the program with a willingness to do anything, and that’s exactly what was needed. During my initial month, I used my graphic design skills to start creating the invitation for the first Full Circle, contacted potential funders, observed facilitators, cleaned paintbrushes, etc.

My current work is very different from that of a facilitator. But what is the same is that I do it out of love for the Arts Access artists and this program. I do find that I use my right brain a lot more that I used to!  As director, I am involved in strategic planning, staff management, networking with other arts organizations, working with our Development department to target and write grants, research, presentations and public speaking, advocacy – the list goes on. I am also responsible for determining the direction and vision of this program. But I don’t do it alone. My staff is tremendous. I couldn’t work with a better group of people.

The possibilities for the Arts Access Program and its outreach are endless. I envision a world where every person with a disability has access to this program.  I want to bring Arts Access to a national and international level, establishing satellite programs in accessible locations everywhere. The fine art should be hung in galleries, museums and collections, the plays and dances performed to the public, and the written work published. There is no limit to what people with disabilities can do in the realm of art, and my vision is equally limitless.

I’d like the public to leave Full Circle 2012: Unexpected Art having been touched, moved, surprised and impacted by the art and the artists.  I want the public to see beyond the disability to the person inside, and to appreciate the art for what it is – true creative expression by truly talented artists.

As artists, it is important for work to be seen and exhibited, published and performed.  And ideally, funded – whether through painting, book or ticket sales.  I know the importance of all of the above because of my first hand experience as an artist – I live it. My love and passion for art drives me to make Arts Access everything it can possibly be for the artists we serve.  I hope you’ll come out and join us as we continue to reach that goal.

Full Circle 2012: Unexpected Art will take place at the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center from 3-6pm. Matheny is located at 65 Highland Avenue in Peapack, NJ 07977.

For ticket information, call 908-234-0011 ext. 260 or email pcats@matheny.org. Visit the Arts Access Web site at www.artsaccessprogram.org


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