It is just days before the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens (UPARC) annual Omelette Party and excitement is growing amongst a very special group of artists who contribute to this event each year. These artists work at Harborside Studios, a division of UPARC, in varied mediums including acrylics, water color, collage, drawing, fabric painting, pottery and mixed media. Their artwork is sold during this black tie champagne supper and many party attendees anxiously wait all year for a chance to purchase a very special UPARC client creation.
For over 45 years, UPARC has been working, as their mission statement explains, "to enhance the dignity and independence of persons who are developmentally disabled in the Upper Pinellas area." Their day and residential treatment programs provide training, rehabilitation and access to appropriate community services for over 550 clients, both children and adults, and their families each year.
Two years ago, UPARC created the Harborside Studio as a facility "dedicated to enabling individuals with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities to choose and realize their goals while learning, playing, experiencing, working and expressing themselves through the language of art." Great success has been achieved, explains Harborside Creative Director Jon Johnson, "through a combination of hands-on instruction and allowing each client to work with the medium of their choice."
James, a Downes Syndrome client, would not participate when first coming to the Harborside Studio. "My background is in commercial art and I had never taught before," explained Jon. "I was completely frustrated." Jon finally handed James some crayons and left him alone. James created a very detailed abstract that was good enough to be framed and hung in the gallery. Mary Alice is severely disabled and can only scribble with crayons. Her job is to decorate the shopping bags used at the studio. Nicki is almost completely blind and has to rest her head on her artwork in order to complete her creations. Scott would like to show you his latest pottery piece, but his severe speech impediment makes it hard to communicate his enthusiasm. He finally brings his piece, a bright blue container to you in hopes that you'll enjoy it as much as he does.
Jon, along with Harborside Studio Program Director Michelle Anabtawi and Clay artist Randy Nadzam have learned to work with each clients disabilities and more importantly to unleash each client's talents during their time at the studio. The day begins with a lesson in sign language so that even those clients with hearing disabilities can feel a part of the group. Each month the studio holds a consumer meeting. These group meetings involve the staff and clients alike for discussions concerning safety, cleanliness and possible art projects for that month. Though the average I.Q. of a Harborside artist is less than 60, these are adults and as John emphasizes, "We treat them like adults." And as in many fine art galleries, 60% of the sale of each piece of art sold is paid to the artist, a UPARC client in this case, and 40% is used to pay for supplies and offset the galleries' overhead costs.
Recently, the artists at the Harborside Studio have been studying a style of painting using palette knives with thicker acrylic paint. "The only problem is that we can't afford to buy the palette knives," admitted Jon "so we are using popsicle sticks instead." Palette knives, paper, crayons and a wonderful place to work all take physical and financial resources and there are several ways that you can help. Plan to attend the 39th annual Omelette Party on Friday, April 7th and their plant and decoration sale on Saturday April 8th. For information about cost, directions and other ways to support the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens, call their foundation at 727-797-8712.
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