Art show gives disabled means of personal expression

Steven expresses his thoughts through his paintings.

Steven expresses his thoughts through his paintings.

Michael is happy to be showing his art work at the Clayton Center for the Arts as part of the Open Arms exhibit.

Michael is happy to be showing his art work at the Clayton Center for the Arts as part of the Open Arms exhibit.

Posing with one of her paintings is Patti. Her art will be part of the Open Arms exhibit at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

Posing with one of her paintings is Patti. Her art will be part of the Open Arms exhibit at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

The staff at the Clayton Center for the Arts knew a good exhibit when they saw it.

That is why the Clayton Center is currently showing the Personal Perspective Art Program, with artists from Open Arms Care in Knoxville.

“We did it last year, and it was a huge hit,” said Cherie Compton, interim marketing director for the Clayton Center for the Arts. “We had a lot of people come through, and everyone was complimentary.”

What is different about this art show is that the artists are all clients at Open Arms, a non-profit organization that has provided services to persons with developmental disabilities across the state since 1990. One of their programs is the Personal Perspective Art Program. The program has a mission to provide persons with disabilities the tools necessary to create meaningful works of pure self-expression.

“They are actually very good artists,” said Compton. “This year when Open Arms approached us to come again, it was one of those no-brainer things.”

An artists’ reception is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 14, at the Clayton Center for the Arts. The Denso Art Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and during some special events. The exhibit runs through July 29.

Compton said art enriches peoples’ lives and makes life better for everyone. “This group is living proof of that fact. We have photos and little bios of the artists, and you can see the joy on their faces when they’re next to their artwork,” she said. “It really is wonderful.”

Day Services Area Leader Nikki Miszkiel said Open Arms Care clients began utilizing Art Realization Technologies about two years. In 2010, their clients held five shows, including Foothills Fall Festival and an exhibit at Fine Arts Blount.

The clients participate in the art classes each Tuesday. “They lack the fine motor skills to do their own painting,” explained Miszkiel. “We have staff trained to be trackers. The staff go with them, and they tell what they want the paint to be applied with, whether with a spoon, brush or sponge. They pick everything they want,” she said. “Some are non-verbal, so some clients use an eye gaze. Others shake their heads yes or no.”

Some clients wear a laser, and the trackers follow their moves. “If they move their head, the brush goes where ever they go,” she said. “If they don’t use a laser, the tracker will take a yard stick, and the clients tells them when to stop. Then the staff member takes a pencil and marks it, and they connect it.”

Paintings are framed by the staff and kept at the Open Arms administrative offices when they aren’t being exhibited at art shows or until they are sold.

Miszkiel said when a painting sells, all the money goes to the client who painted it. The clients enjoy expressing themselves, and they like that they are earning money, she said.

“You can see when their moods change. Having someone to do their artwork with them is a way of self-expression for them. They have images in their head, and they apply that to their canvas. Being able to get out what they are thinking is great. You see their personalities come alive,” Miszkiel said.

“Some clients are animated and like to be outdoors and like bright colors. Seeing the painting when it is done and the look on their faces, it is priceless.”

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