When you walk through the doorway of Room 227 at New Perceptions in Edgewood, you step into a world of possibilities.
Paintings, sketches, sculptures and other works of art line shelves, sit on tables and are propped along walls. Canvases, clay, wire and art supplies of every kind fill cabinets, drawers and other shelves. It’s a colorful, inspiring room, busy but not cluttered.
This is the home of Art Abilities – where imagination reigns and creative magic happens.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Erick Winburn dipped a brush into pale blue and green paints. He leaned over a sculpture and dabbed the paint onto clay that he and his buddy and fellow artist Billy Bach had pinched and placed to represent water. Driftwood and rocks Winburn had collected sat amid the clay water. Perched on the driftwood was a fisherman he had fashioned out of wire and spray painted.
Finding ways to use diverse materials is one of the reasons Winburn likes the Art Abilities program. “It challenges me,” he said. The wire can be hard to work with, but “it’s worth it in the end.”
His inspiration? “I like to fish, myself, and I just thought it’d look cool to make.”
The 16 artists who work here, all adults with developmental disabilities, are a busy bunch. They paint, sculpt and sketch for the world outside their doorway.
“We have lots of hands going,” instructor Peg Kendall said while showing me around the studio. “We always have the mind-set to have pieces in the community.”
Winburn’s sculpture, for instance, will be on display at the New Perceptions Annual Dinner on Aug. 23 at Receptions in Erlanger. Each artist “has a goal to be in the community themselves,” Kendall said, “so having their work in the community is an extension of that.”
Kendall’s enthusiasm for her students is apparent as she talks about them and their work. “They are the most motivated and creative people,” she said. The program doesn’t follow a curriculum. Instead the artists decide what they’re going to learn. “It comes from the heart,” Kendall said, “and it comes from them.”
With pride Kendall ticks off the community events the artists are preparing for. For the annual dinner, Kendall plans to display 25 to 30 pieces, enough to represent as many of the artists as possible. Currently eight pieces from the studio are entered in a show at Art Beyond Boundaries, a gallery on Main Street in Cincinnati that showcases and sells the works of local and regional artists with disabilities. On Aug. 5, that show will end and a new show will begin with, Kendall hopes, seven or eight pieces from her studio.
“They are the most motivated and creative people.”
The artists also will show their works at Art in the Park in Bellevue on Sept. 10. At Art on the Levee in Newport, visitors can find wire sculptures, similar to Winburn’s fisherman, for sale throughout the year.
Wire sculpture is a favorite among the artists, Kendall said. The studio started producing the sculptures about five years ago after researching and finding that no one else in the area was creating them, she said. The sculptures require fencing wire, rebar wire or “whatever we can lay our hands on.”
The artists, sometimes collaborating on the same sculpture, twist the wire into figures – a wire ball for the head and wire columns for the trunk, arms and legs – and then give them a job to do. Three wire figures, for example, appear to be rappelling on the wall outside the Art Abilities door.
In addition to paintings and sketches, program participants also work on tile mosaics, ceramics and engravings in glass and wood. Thanks to a recent grant from the Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation, the studio has added a pottery wheel and airbrushing equipment.
“We very much try to cater to their interests, even if it’s Pittsburgh Steelers junk,” Kendall said loud enough to get a reaction from Winburn and Bach, both fans of that other football team from that other city.
It’s all good-natured ribbing. A sense of camaraderie spreads easily through the room like paint on canvas.
“I love it,” Bach said when asked his opinion of the art program. He enjoys being in the studio, making friends and “being around that woman right there,” he said, pointing to Kendall.
Bach recently finished a collage-type painting, and for his next project, he’ll paint Batman to fulfill a request from a customer. The studio occasionally gets requests for work, which encourages the artists, said Kendall, who is also the assistant manager of The Learning Center at New Perceptions.
When an artist sells work, half of the money goes to the artist and half to the Art Abilities program. Often the artists donate their half back to the program by using it to buy supplies, Kendall said. “They can see the difference they’re making.”
In addition to visual arts, Art Abilities also teaches sign language and music, including drums, piano and guitar. “Art Abilities is an all-day party,” Kendall said.
After visiting this all-day party, images of the artwork and the people have stayed with me. For some reason, though, one surprising image keeps coming to mind – the doorway to the Art Abilities room. Maybe it has stayed with me because it seemed so open and welcoming. Maybe I think of it because it stands in contrast to the many closed doors people with disabilities may encounter. The students who walk through this doorway have other doors opened to them – doors to creativity, to relationships with fellow artists, to the larger community. Open doors. Open hearts. Art Abilities.
The Art Abilities program is offered to adults 21 and older with a developmental disability. The potential participants also must have a Medicaid waiver. For more information and program availability, please contact Marlayna Cooney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top photo: A variety of works by Art Abilities students are displayed at the 2015 New Perceptions Annual Dinner.
Photos provided by New Perceptions.
About New Perceptions
I’d heard of the organization for years but wasn’t sure about what it offered. Development Director Emily Prabell broke it down for me with the following brief history and overview:
New Perceptions was founded by a group of concerned parents in 1952 to offer services that were scarce in the community at that time for children with special needs. Thanks to parents who wanted the best for their children, individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities receive opportunities for education, growth and employment in a normalized setting to help each person reach his or her maximum potential.
Our Children Services program offers home-based and on-campus specialized therapeutic intervention – occupational, physical, and/or speech – for a variety of developmental needs. An eight-week summer program, Bridging the Gap, offers unique small-group therapy with a focus on sensory movement, social communication and therapeutic school-readiness.
Services for adults include Supported Employment, The Work Center and The Learning Center. Supported Employment offers in-depth, one-on-one support from employment specialists. Participants learn job skills, how to get a job, and techniques to cooperate with coworkers and supervisors to best succeed on the job.
The Work Center provides employment at the New Perceptions campus in parts assembly, kit assembly, collating, bagging, labeling, rework and packaging jobs for small items. Participants learn diverse work skills and increase independent functioning skills.
The Learning Center, new in January 2015, offers adult participants educational opportunities in three supportive settings. The Adult Learning Classroom offers structured learning in topics such as comprehensive reading, life skills reading, life skills math, cooking, health and current events. Adult Day is a relaxed setting for individuals who need greater one-on-one support in learning life skills. Activities are planned and led by staff throughout the day. Art Abilities is open to students who want to learn skills and/or express themselves through art such as sketching, water color, wire design, guitar, piano and sign language.