PBS: Shedding a limiting label to embrace a new identity as artist

If you attend an art show at Arc of the Arts, a studio in Austin, Texas, you’ll find paintings and drawings, jewelry and flash animation. The studio houses over 60 artists a week, all of whom are adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I think there is this misunderstanding that people with disabilities can’t create art that is just as good as any of the art out there and so I think highlighting that at a lot of the shows is eye-opening,” said Andrew Grimes, lead art instructor at Arc of the Arts.

Each artist that passes weekly through their doors receives comprehensive, individualized instruction.

“We really don’t focus in on the disability too much, it’s more about their interests in the art,” said Ann Alva Wieding, the program manager at the studio. “The lessons are really what you’d find in a college level art course. We’ve just slowed down the pace a little bit and we do some repetition with it.”

The artists sell their pieces, oftentimes learning the marketing skills to help promote the work that they create. Wieding says that having a final product really boosts self-esteem.

“For a lot of people with disabilities, they’ve had a label most of their life. Now, suddenly, they become an artist and they’re not carrying around that label anymore.”

People with developmental disabilities can struggle to find educational opportunities or a professional outlet, but Arc of the Arts believes the “bridge” they’ve created to the community can help fill that void.

“It’s a great way of self-expression, especially for some people who have communication disabilities,” said Wieding. “They may not have a very strong voice with which to share their story, but they have now a medium that they can display what they are really interested in to the world.”