Out to change lives

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– and higher salary – if the artist’s ca­reer con­tin­ues to progress, March said.

Pare is a pro­duc­tive stu­dent mem­ber hop­ing to soon be­come an as­so­ci­ate. About 30 of her pieces have been re­pro­duced in­ter­na­tion­ally by MFPA since she joined, the or­gan­i­sa­tion says.

“We feel that Mariam is one of the lead­ing stu­dents in the United States,” March said, “and her artis­tic skill is at a very high level.”

All that re­newed prom­ise al­most came to an end in 1998, when Pare got sep­a­rated from friends on the bike path near Mon­roe Har­bor and rolled into Lake Michi­gan.

She re­mem­bers land­ing at the bot­tom of the lake, star­ing about three me­tres to the sur­face and see­ing the legs of peo­ple who jumped in to save her.

Three men first tried to yank her from the chair, but she was belted in, Pare re­called. They brought her and the chair to the sur­face, where she gasped for air and told them to re­lease the seat belt. They had to sub­merge her again to do so, then car­ried her to the sur­face, Pare said.

As har­row­ing as the or­deal was, it “ended up be­ing one of the best things that ever hap­pened to me”, she said. Pare made a paint­ing for her res­cuers and gave speeches about their hero­ism, which brought her and her art wide­spread ex­po­sure. It also yielded do­na­tions that paid for a new wheel­chair.

“It re­stored my faith in peo­ple,” Pare said. “I’d had so many bad ex­pe­ri­ences and, al­ready be­ing a vic­tim of gun vi­o­lence, I didn’t like very many peo­ple. The out­pour­ing of love that I re­ceived from that was life-chang­ing.”

An in­spi­ra­tion

She’s out to change lives with art. In ad­di­tion to giv­ing pri­vate lessons, Pare is a mem­ber of the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion In­sti­tute’s as­so­ci­ate board, its fundrais­ing arm. She is also a co-founder of STEAM Stu­dios in Chicago.

The non-profit’s mis­sion is to “pro­vide world-class arts ed­u­ca­tion” and be­come “a hub for so­cial change and so­cial jus­tice through work in the arts”.

One of her pieces, Float, was se­lected for a juried show at Naperville’s Ar­terie Fine Arts cen­tre that opened Feb 4 and runs for a month. To­day, her work will be fea­tured at Art In Mo­tion at North­west­ern Univer­sity’s Lurie Center, where she will demon­strate mouth-paint­ing at an art ther­apy fundraiser.

For all the suc­cess she’s ex­pe­ri­enced, Pare ac­knowl­edges the lim­i­ta­tions, one of which is the “full-time job” of or­gan­is­ing her life as a dis­abled per­son.

She texts and an­swers her cell­phone by peck­ing it with her nose. In paint­ing, her mouth isn’t nearly as ver­sa­tile as her hand, and, when work­ing on larger pieces, she can’t reach high enough and has to turn them up­side down to fin­ish the up­per por­tions.

It is still dif­fi­cult to see pho­tos of her­self, she said, and when giv­ing pri­vate lessons to young, able-bod­ied artists, Pare has trained her­self to avoid think­ing about what could have been.

“It’s just some sep­a­ra­tion of the life be­fore and the life now,” she said, “I think I’m OK with my­self now, and I think it’s em­pow­er­ing to em­brace who you are; what you are.” – Chicago Tri­bune/McClatchyTri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Pare says that if she were un­able to paint with a brush loosely set be­tween her teeth on the right side of her mouth, she prob­a­bly would wear a hel­met with a paint­brush and make that work.

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