ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Sunlight spills into the spacious room and moves across brightly colored canvases that hang from the walls. Brian moves a marker back and forth on paper while Justin works on embellishing a mirror. Shannon and Bill are working together creating a sun from macaroni that has been dyed to match all the colors of the rainbow. There is some instruction, but most are expressing themselves as they wish and at their own pace.
They are creating art and they’re all enjoying their day.
This scene takes place every day at Tomorrow’s Corner, a provider of day services to adults with developmental disabilities in Belmont County. People of all ages are members and their disabilities are as diverse as the colors on the canvases they paint. Many have severe disabilities, but that doesn’t matter here, because everyone can create something, and they do.
Art Therapist Tracy Whiteside provides opportunities for talent and expression to emerge in the art room. She knows that disability does not define a person or their ability to create something.
“There is so much more to people with disabilities and art can help draw that out,” Tracy said.
The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma, or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development.” For people with intellectual and physical disabilities, art provides a way for them to express themselves through symbolic communication.
“A lot of folks can’t speak, but they can draw a person and a house and communicate how they see the world or feel in that way,” Tracy said.
For Jenny, who has limited vision, Tracy puts paper and paint in front of her, and lets her choose the colors. Working together, Tracy moves the paper around under her brush.
“Some of the most beautiful pieces come from this process,” Tracy said. “It’s a body-soul thing and it just comes out.”
When Tracy holds the completed work up for her, Jenny smiles with an obvious sense of pride over what she has created.
Another woman creates colorful abstracts by painting with feathers, because her disability prevents her from holding a traditional paint brush.
Tracy said that everyone, regardless of their disability, can be involved in the creative process. Some people may only be able to tear paper, yet that ability joins with the abilities of others to create large installations like a heart consisting entirely of different colors of torn paper or a bright blue peacock made from individual hand prints that each person painted in splashes of watercolor.
This creative process is also a way to teach about topics that have little to do with art, like self-awareness.
Willie has an intellectual disability and uses a wheelchair. When he began drawing people, his figures were entirely round, mostly just a body with fingers, because that was how he saw himself.
“We couldn’t intellectualize the spatial concept with Willie, but we could use art to teach him about body image,” Tracy said. Through the artistic process, he increased awareness of himself and his figures began to include arms and legs.
The art that is created by people with disabilities falls into the “outsider” art category, a term that describes what someone who has not been influenced by culture or convention creates.
“There is true use of color, shape and line by people who have never taken an art class,” Tracy said.
Across Ohio and the country, artists with disabilities who create outsider art have even found a source of income by selling their work.
Tracy noted that some of the art created at Tomorrow’s Corner is marketable, but the goal is the experience, not the end product.
“We want people to have fun – that’s our mission – and we want everyone to be involved,” Tracy said.
That’s exactly what Lisa Kazmirski had in mind when she founded Tomorrow’s Corner with the mission to “Enjoy Your Day.”
“I wanted to provide services to people with disabilities who were not interested or able to do the type of work offered in sheltered work settings,” Lisa said.
Tomorrow’s Corner filled a gap in services to people with disabilities in Belmont County when it opened in 2008. It departed from vocational training to focus on non-work activities that stimulate the mind, heart and senses. Its innovative approach to adult day support includes opportunities for art, music, nature, exercise, relaxation and sensory stimulation.
“Some of the skills learned by participating in these activities are transferable into other settings, like work, but we don’t pressure anyone,” Lisa said. “We have fun.”
The future of artistic expression at Tomorrow’s Corner will soon include the creative arts when drama and puppets are introduced as another way for people with disabilities to express themselves.
As one group of people leaves the art room, another group arrives. There is an eagerness on each person’s face to create, communicate and enjoy the day.
Two exhibits of art created by people with disabilities at Tomorrow’s Corner are now on display in the lobby at Belmont Technical College and at the St. Clairsville Library. To learn more, call Tomorrow’s Corner at 740-695-1110.