WMU News

Show spolights art by people with disabilities

May 28, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- An art show opening June 4 provides ample evidence that people with disabilities don't have any handicap when it comes to creating art.

Works produced by seven artists with developmental disabilities and other impairments are being displayed in Western Michigan University's Unified Clinics on the third floor of the University Medical and Health Sciences Building at 1000 Oakland Drive. Pieces run the gamut from paintings and drawings to prints and mixed media. Some three-dimensional pieces also are included.

The show's opening from 5 to 8 p.m. is being included in the Arts Council of Kalamazoo's Gallery Hop on June 4 and will let people not only see the art, but also meet the artists.

The artists are clients of the Center for Disability Services, formerly the Center for Developmentally Disabled Adults. They are the first group to take part in a new center art program that started after one client requested an art class. The program now serves about 30 artists in five groups meeting twice a week.

Tom Mills, a center activity therapist and photographer, shepherded the program into existence about eight months ago. He since has passed the brush on to Julie Osborn, a center art therapist and artist.

Mills and Osborn agree that the program has been good for the center's clients, while at the same time showcasing some pretty significant talent. Pieces in the show are for sale and five already have been sold before the show officially opens.

"They all look forward to the group and seem to really enjoy doing the art work and getting positive feedback for what they do," Osborn says. "They have a lot of freedom in the group and they really respond to that. Even their skill level seems to be developing. It's a good outlet for them."

Mills says some of the artists lack verbal skills and that creating art helps them communicate.

"I think they express themselves through their art, whether it's the choice of colors or subject matter, even the brush strokes," Mills says. "Their styles are very consistent. You can really tell who created what."

The program has temporarily set up shop at the YMCA on Maple Street. Osborn hopes to move it into a more permanent home in a local art studio, which would bring artists into closer contact with the community while helping it to attract more artists and expand offerings to possibly include pottery, photography and other art forms.

Whether the program continues to grow or not, its success already has been demonstrated. The proof is hanging in the WMU Unified Clinics. Mills calls the quality of the works on display and the images created "pretty exceptional."

Osborn agrees that the artists really say something in their work.

"They're so uninhibited with their art," Osborn says. "They're just very natural with it."

Anyone interested in taking part in the program or donating time or studio space should call Osborn at (616) 382-7041.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu


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