Closing Up 2019: A Year In Art

I have been pretty transparent in both my face-to-face public life and my online life about 2019 being one of the toughest years I’ve had in quite some time for a variety of reasons. Though I am more than ready to let go and look forward to 2020, and though “blessed” is definitely not the first word that would come to mind when I think of this past year (the word I’m thinking of starts with an f, guys …) … I am blessed that my ‘day job’ was many times my anchor through a tumultuous 2019. How many people can really say that???

For those new to the blog, I direct an inclusive arts and wellness program called Express Yourself Artshop that is open to students of all abilities, largely serving adults with physical, intellectual, and psychological disabilities. I have worked with Artshop in some capacity since it’s inception a little over 6 years ago, and have had the opportunity to see it grow and transform just as the program helps its participants grow and transform on a personal level. Looking back, 2019 was full of positive experiences and new adventures in creativity in our corner of the world.

The focus this year was definitely getting the students’ art out into the community. Creative expression is invaluable for the peace, joy, and confidence it can give an artist while creating. People really should do art primarily for themselves, but still, getting an artist’s work out of their own home and into the world allows that creation to further make an impact on the public that views it. Especially when it comes to artists with disabilities, society makes a lot of assumptions about what they can and can’t do. Educating through art is another part of what we aim to do.

Our Artshop crew was chosen to participate in the community’s Downtown Summer Sculpture Series. We made a proposal as to how we would transform the default mold, and once accepted proceeded to work as a group to create “Let Your Light Shine”. Not only does the positive message reflect our goal for anyone who participates in our program, but the idea of piecing together different shapes, sizes, and colors of glass to create something that would not be as beautiful were it covered in identical decorations is also symbolic of neurodiversity and the celebration of differences.

2019 was also a year of collaboration. In addition to the sculpture above, students worked on many 2D mixed media group works in a larger scale. Collaborating allows students to play off of each other’s strengths, support each other’s weaknesses, and push themselves to come up with new ideas and creative solutions as they work towards a unified vision.

Two of the collaborations were featured in Creative 360‘s annual fundraiser for auction, both highlighting a creative practice 360 offers. One themed around theater was a collaboration between two of my students, Melanie and Colleen, under my guidance. They collaged the background of a large canvas and a set of masks with old newspapers and magazines, and then chose colorful words that embodied what Creative 360 meant to them to include. We worked together on an overall design and pattern for the painting, and they came up with the idea to place butterfly cutouts flying across and did the layout on their own. I asked questions to prompt ideas, but the vision was theirs and it was truly amazing to see them get excited about what they were doing and bounce ideas back and forth, supporting and encouraging each other along the way.

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The second piece was worked on slowly over the year with a couple of different class groups, starting with a colorful abstract background over which they applied stamping, texture, and doodling with paint markers. Afterwards, smaller silhouettes of figures doing yoga poses were stenciled on (including a shout out to wheelchair yoga on the far right). Last, larger cutouts were layered overtop to provide a main focus. It was amazing how completely different groups were able to come up with ideas to continue the evolution of this piece for a unified final masterpiece.

Another successful collaboration was Creative 360’s performance of scenes from Alice In Wonderland over the summer. Students this year took part in every step of the process of putting on a small production, from deciding costumes to hand creating some whimsical and summery nature inspired backdrops. One of our Acting Class “regulars” even stepped up to fill the role of stage manager, and helped facilitate practices and organize the final show.

Videos of our different performances, events, and open mics throughout the year, including those at our most recent holiday gathering, can be found on Artshop’s Facebook Page. If you want to support our students and also snag some very cool original art, visit our Virtual Gallery, Ebay Shop, and Redbubble Shop. Happy holidays!