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Spring 2010 Features

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Brush strokes
Antonio Sanders has been creating paintings for two years, from selecting canvas size to choosing paint colors. While it may sound simple, it’s new for Sanders and his fellow artists to relish the power of human expression.

The University of Memphis Jones Hall Gallery recently displayed artwork by adults with disabilities. The exhibit ran from May 17 through June 4.

Five artists featured 14 pieces of work created through the Inspiration of Life Art Program at Open Arms Care, an intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The facility implemented the program in 2004 after receiving training in Art Realization Technologies’ groundbreaking technique founded by artist Tim Lefens. The technique allows a population not able to physically create art to make choices and communicate what they want on the canvas with the help of a tracker, the person who physically creates the painting exactly the way the artist would like it. Some artists use a laser and trackers follow the laser on the canvas. Art Realization Technologies has programs in painting, sculpture, photography and music.

Margaret Beasley, director of education and training for Open Arms Care, brought the painting program to Memphis after observing its impact at another location.

“You could tell that the participants were making more choices in five minutes than they’d make in a whole day,” she says. “They really came alive and started taking control of the process and right off the bat creating dynamic artwork, modified by their decisions and choices.”

The program gives voice to a group that’s been previously silenced.

“This is self-expression that the artists have never been allowed or had access to because of their limitations. As a member of the art community, they’re on common ground with anybody else,” says Beasley.

“It shows them, when given the tools, anything is possible. This is truly a great expression of that,” adds Marnie Williams, day services director at Open Arms Care.

For the past two years, the group had been trying to find a place to exhibit the work and “get others to see this is art, not just paint on canvases.”

They met with Richard Lou, U of M art department chair, and a partnership was struck.

“Our department has been very interested in working with the community and those goals of showing new artwork, working with other nonprofits and supporting a really noble cause,” says Lou. “The most important thing is it really illustrates how art as a language transcends all barriers and brings communities together. It shows the commonality in our humanity and that was the most important reason for hosting.”

The plan is an annual exhibit at the U of M.

“It gets us out there and lets people know that people with disabilities can go a lot further than just being somebody with a handicap. They are somebody with talent, potential and are real,” says Williams.

“People are looking at them for what they have done and not what they can’t do,” adds Beasley. — by Sara Hoover

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