Art Abil­ity

Boost­ing cre­ativ­ity, con­fi­dence, and com­mu­nity in peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties

Natural Solutions - - Get Inspired - BY CARALIN WALSH

Art Abil­ity started as an 8-week art ex­hibit at Bryn Mawr Re­hab Hospi­tal in Malvern, Penn­syl­va­nia, 20 years ago. But un­like other art gal­leries and ex­hibits, Art Abil­ity only fea­tures works by artists with dis­abil­i­ties. “When we saw the in­cred­i­ble work that th­ese artists were do­ing in spite of every­thing they were go­ing through, we re­al­ized that they de­served recog­ni­tion for their tal­ents,” said Sher­man Flem­ing, Art Abil­ity cu­ra­tor. Since the first ex­hibit in 1996, Art Abil­ity has grown to have an an­nual 12-week ex­hibit, a per­ma­nent col­lec­tion at the hospi­tal, art­work for sale on­line year-round, satel­lite art ex­hibits, and in­ter­ac­tive demo days.

Any­one with a phys­i­cal, cog­ni­tive, vis­ual, or hear­ing dis­abil­ity is el­i­gi­ble to sub­mit their art­work to the an­nual Art Abil­ity ex­hibit as long as the work has not been dis­played at an­other gallery and was cre­ated af­ter the on­set of their dis­abil­ity. Artists who work in a va­ri­ety of medi­ums have an op­por­tu­nity to show their work at the ex­hibit, as they ac­cept sub­mis­sions of works on pa­per, can­vas or board, pho­tog­ra­phy, mixed me­dia, sculp­tures, jew­elry, and fine crafts. Ac­cepted works are dis­played at the an­nual ex­hibit held at the Bryn Mawr Re­hab Hospi­tal from Novem­ber to Jan­uary.

Af­ter the ex­hibit ends, un­sold works of art are stored and listed for sale on­line. When the pieces from the ex­hibit are taken down, the hospi­tal’s per­ma­nent ex­hibit goes back up. “Our per­ma­nent col­lec­tion grows ev­ery year, thanks to gen­er­ous donors who pur­chase works from the new ex­hi­bi­tion and do­nate them to the hospi­tal,” says Flem­ing.

Art Abil­ity works to in­spire peo­ple and teach them about dis­abil­i­ties. Ev­ery year they have a few in­ter­ac­tive demo days, where peo­ple tour the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion or the an­nual ex­hibit. Dur­ing the half-day pro­gram, Art Abil­ity artists have a chance to share their craft and their story, teach­ing oth­ers about their dis­abil­ity. Af­ter­wards, the par­tic­i­pants are sep­a­rated into small groups where they are guided through the cre­ation of their own work of art by one of the artists. Art Abil­ity also hosts satel­lite ex­hibits a few times a year in venues such as store fronts, com­mu­nity cen­ters, and art gal­leries. Th­ese satel­lite ex­hibits help raise aware­ness of dis­abil­i­ties as well as work to in­spire oth­ers with dis­abil­i­ties to get in­volved with art.

This pro­gram is an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity for th­ese artists. The chance to not only see their art­work dis­played in a pub­lic fo­rum, but also to reap the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits of a pro­fes­sional artist is a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence for them. Artists re­ceive 80 per­cent of the pro­ceeds from the sale of their pieces dur­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion and are also el­i­gi­ble to win cash awards from nine dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. “But be­yond that, the artists are en­cour­aged to con­tinue fol­low­ing their pas­sions, and em­brace the heal­ing ben­e­fits of the artis­tic process it­self,” says Flem­ing. “We’ve long been aware of art’s abil­ity to heal, and have in­cor­po­rated that into our re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams.”

Dreams can come true, thanks to Art Abil­ity. “It is dif­fi­cult enough for any artist to find venues to ex­hibit their art­work, yet artists en­cum­bered with grave dis­abil­i­ties face much more for­mi­da­ble ob­sta­cles find­ing ex­hi­bi­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties to show­case their work,” says artist Ralph Mindi­cino, a mul­ti­year par­tic­i­pant in Art Abil­ity. “The won­der­ful cu­ra­tors, or­ga­niz­ers, and staff are to be com­mended for all the ded­i­ca­tion and hard work they have put into mak­ing th­ese oc­ca­sions such a great suc­cess. Their en­deav­ors are a tremen­dous ben­e­fit for the many dis­abled artists who, like my­self, have taken part in th­ese ex­hi­bi­tions through­out the years.”

With the an­nual ex­hibit and satel­lite gal­leries rais­ing aware­ness, it seems there’s nowhere for Art Abil­ity to go but up. “We have en­joyed 20 years of growth and suc­cess, and our plan is to sus­tain the mo­men­tum,” says Flem­ing. This pro­gram de­serves con­tin­ued suc­cess in the years to come. Whether as an artist, vol­un­teer, or ex­hibit at­tendee, if you’re in­volved with Art Abil­ity you are cer­tain to have a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s so heart­warm­ing to look around a room of peo­ple who are deal­ing with th­ese dis­eases and dis­abil­i­ties, and see the huge smiles on their faces as they share what they’ve cre­ated.”

Learn more about Art Abil­ity and view this year’s art­work at art-abil­ity.org.

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