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Adding Color to Life Through Art

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Guest blog from Barbara Pickut, Director of The Studios at LOGAN (South Bend)

The arts give those who struggle with conventional communication a way to overcome physical limitations and achieve expression and connection. The Studios at LOGAN, a program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, values art so highly because it gives a voice to those who speak without words. Every day we see many examples of art allowing people to express themselves, take pride in their work, and have their ability recognized by others.

Art has been a part of LOGAN for all its 70 years. In 2015, we turned our adult day program into The Studios to better reflect our focus on creativity. The Studio of the Arts, one of four specialized Studio programs, gives developing artists a chance to explore music, culinary arts, and all types of visual media – wood, glass, metal, acrylics, watercolors, paper, ceramics – basically anything that can be sanded, shaped, painted, or glued.

Art adds color to life. We saw that in the artwork of the late Martha McMillian. Her spirited depictions of South Bend landmarks can be found on display around South Bend and Notre Dame. Her work shows how much more vibrant her life became when she left a segregated institutional setting to participate more fully as a connected member of the community. In the institution, she sketched only in black and white. In community, she began painting in color. How wonderful is that?

We also see the way art impacts life in the evolving work of current participants – a young woman whose muscle function gives her the use of only one hand, but whose brushstroke cannot be matched; a young man who had limited opportunity to work with the arts, but with opportunity and instruction quickly began creating freehand drawings; and an exuberant young woman who found a focus for her tremendous energy and personality through paint, clay, and other media.

“I made that!”

We provide as many opportunities as we can for public display and sale of our artwork. Each year, we put on a holiday bazaar at LOGAN Center. In the summer, we participate in local art fairs. Three years ago, we had the privilege of displaying our artwork at the South Bend Museum of Art, which led to ongoing sales in their gift shop.

It is so exciting to see people take pride in their work at these public displays. At our holiday bazaar, one participant who had significant physical and communication challenges sat at the display of cards his group had made, saying his name and “cards” repeatedly with a huge smile.

One LOGAN artist saw someone walking down the street at a local art fair carrying the bright yellow surf board she had painted and came right back to the Studios booth to share her excitement that her work had been purchased.

An elderly gentleman who’s lived a hard life has quiet dignity as he works on refinishing and painting furniture.

One prolific Studios artist, a man of few words, tells about how he didn’t know he could draw until he was given a chance — cards featuring his paintings of birds are some of our top sellers.

Sometimes, the commission Studios artists earn on their work is the first earned income of their lives. Artists earn 70 percent of the sale price of any artwork sold.

Adapting art to abilities

Facing an obstacle doesn’t mean you have to stop—you can go a different way. Adaptive arts equipment may take the form of bubble wrap on a roller to apply paint with texture, pool noodles to extend the handles of paint brushes, and even a remote-control car driven by “Studios Stu.” By simply adding a little paint to Stu’s wheels, a group can enjoy spontaneous creativity together watching his tire tracks create something beautiful on a large sheet of canvas.

Adaptation is continuous. During a recent outdoor group art project, one participant first leaned over to paint with a long-handled brush on the canvas spread on the ground. This put her at risk of falling, so someone quickly brought her a chair. She painted until she was satisfied, and then handed the brush off to give someone else a turn.

Collaboration transcends limits

Studios artists enjoy collaborating, further exploring what we can create when we connect and work together. Some works are the efforts of small groups—one person may paint the background, and another may add pictures and words. One person may sand, another adds a base coat, and a third may add details. Sewing can be a team effort, too, as one person operates the machine pedal while another guides the fabric. Textures created by one person may be shared to be incorporated into someone else’s work.

In 2016, a group of artists in Studios worked together to paint a large fiberglass bison representing St. Joseph County for the United Way’s contribution to Indiana’s “Bison-tennial” celebration. Their colorful design uses visual icons to represent the community in an accessible way. Looking for what everyone has to offer, we find more than any of us could do on our own.

For these artists, disability is part of their story, but should not limit or define their work. Just as rhythm and rhyme give structure to poetry, painters work in two dimensions, or sculptors factor realities of gravity into their design, we all seek to transcend limits. Seeing the work artists create at LOGAN challenges all of us to believe in everyone’s potential, to appreciate diverse ways to communicate, and to find creative ways to work through challenges.