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ArtWorks: a special place for special people.

It was opening night in a gallery at the University of Arizona. Eddie, one of thirty artists involved in the exhibit, proudly stood near a cluster of his paintings as faculty, students and friends congratulated him on his work. The event was the culmination of a year-long program at the ArtWorks Studio, a partnership established in 1990 to educate university students in how art can be used to benefit persons with disabilities.

Thanks to three partners who are consistently willing to donate their time and energy to the program, ArtWorks Studio has been able to provide many special people with a unique opportunity for creative expression. The University provides a small wheelchair-accessible house near the campus; local day programs arrange free transportation for all artists; and a community board provides for the financial and physical needs of the Studio. Despite a limited budget, ArtWorks Studio continues to provide free, quality art experiences to adults with disabilities.

The Program

Instructors for each session are university student interns studying art education or art therapy. At the beginning of the semester, each artist is matched with a student intern to form a team which meets each week for an hour and a half.

One of the most appealing aspects of this program is its simplicity. Modeled after a Swiss painting program designed for persons with disabilities, this program uses only two materials: tempera paint and markers. It is believed that the sooner an artist can master the technical and aesthetic components of the material, the more time he or she can spend on the content of the artwork itself.

Following this model, each art experience focuses not on the end product, but on the personal communication made by the artist during the time spent painting. Although the intern may answer questions relating to the materials, he or she tries not to rush the creative process or influence the artist's color selection, technical choices or themes. All ideas come directly from the artist. The intern serves as a supportive friend and tries to foster an environment in which the artist can experience the maximum freedom of expression.

The Studio Environment

ArtWorks Studio is located in what was formerly the living and bedroom area of a stucco house of approximately 800 square feet. This cozy space provides interns and artists with an informal and inviting atmosphere. Furnishings from a local hardware store include rectangular folding tables and plastic stackable chairs. A used bakery cart stands in the corner of one room and provides shelf space for each artist's work.

The focal point of the studio is a long, narrow table which holds twenty countersunk paint containers, each accompanied by a paintbrush and water dish. The containers are filled with tempera paint and are arranged according to the tints and shades of each color group. Artists paint on large, heavy, white paper which is tacked to a soft wallboard opposite the paint table.

The Results

After two years in the program, the artists are eager to continue painting. Eddie plans to continue the series of house pictures he began last year. This kind of enthusiasm results from forming personal relationships.

ArtWorks brings together two people who otherwise would never have met, and allows them to really get to know each other. These relationships have provided the interns with a new understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities. it has also equipped them with information and skills that can be used later in the classroom.

The artists have been given an opportunity to communicate in a new way. Most of the participants speak using only single words or a few short phrases. Through their paintings, however, these artists are developing an appreciation of their own creative abilities and are becoming more comfortable in sharing what they have made with others.

The Future

The future looks bright for ArtWorks Studio, not only because of the obvious benefits it provides for the artists and interns, but also because it is a program developed and shared by three dedicated partners who are clearly proud of the results.

Furthermore, the partners as well as the participants reap benefits from this unique arrangement. ArtWorks enhances the university's teacher-preparation program by providing an internship that will assist students in meeting the challenges of the mainstream classroom. Moreover, the Tucson community is happy to support a cultural opportunity for persons who would not normally be able to participate. Finally, the local day programs for persons with disabilities now have a cultural resource that is developmentally sound and age appropriate for their clients.

Today more than ever, there is a need for art programs that can operate successfully without large amounts of money. The ArtWorks Studio is such a program, and could easily be duplicated in communities, schools and recreational settings. Similar programs could also be implemented for children, the elderly and persons with chronic illnesses. The only necessary ingredients are tremendous amounts of enthusiasm and a reliable partnership dedicated to the smooth and consistent operation of the program.

Jeanne Carrigan is a Registered Art Therapist and Assistant Professor of Art, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.
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Title Annotation:arts education program for disabled university adults
Author:Carrigan, Jeanne
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:852
Previous Article:Special programs, special artists, special learners.
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