From their own hearts

Clayton Center presents art created through self-expression program for challenged adults

Lisa Harris, a participant in the “Personal Persective” art program poses next to her oil painting on display at the Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College.

Lisa Harris, a participant in the “Personal Persective” art program poses next to her oil painting on display at the Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College.

The Clayton Center for the Arts on the Maryville College campus is hosting a unique exhibition featuring art created by local artists with developmental disabilities and physical limitations who have utilized groundbreaking techniques to express themselves on canvas.

The exhibit opened on July 1 and will continue through the end of the month at the Denso Community Gallery at the Clayton Center. The 24 oil paintings are by seven local artists. The artists will host a reception in the gallery on Friday, July 30, from 6-8 p.m., in conjunction with Maryville’s Last Friday Art Walk.

The artists are clients at Open Arms Care, a nonprofit organization that provides intermediate care facility services and an array of residential services for adults and children diagnosed with mental retardation and developmental disabilities in the state of Tennessee. Open Arms Care utilizes Art Realization Technologies (A.R.T.), a program created in 1995 by artist Tim Lefens that gives those who previously did not have the ability to truly express themselves artistically the tools to create art.

“The individual artists participating in this show have physical limitations which previously hindered them from expressing themselves artistically,” said Rebecca Heckler, day services director at Open Arms. “However, through the use of this technique the artist is truly able to create their own work.” Heckler, a 1997 Maryville College alumna, helped coordinate the exhibition.

Open Arms Care is the first to bring A.R.T. training to Tennessee through the Knoxville-based “Personal Perspective” art program. The mission of the “Personal Perspective” art program is “to provide persons with disabilities the tools necessary to create meaningful and pure self-expression.”

The A.R.T. training has resulted in “the emergence of self-expression previously unseen.”

“Persons who were previously not afforded the ability to truly express themselves artistically, because of their developmental disabilities or physical limitations, were now given the tools to create something completely theirs; without the influence of another person’s opinion or perspective,” according to Open Arms Care. “Persons who had spent years with little control over what occurred around them were suddenly directing employees to toss, fling, pour and brush paint onto canvas. They were now choosing colors and instructing employees to mix colors to their specifications. Reserved personalities were exploding onto large canvases. Each piece took on a personality of its own, and over time, a true artistic style emerged.”

For more information about the exhibition, contact Nikki Miszkiel, day services area leader at Open Arms Care, at or at 865-694-9964, ext. 10.

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