Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara and the Niagara County Chapter of the New York State Council on the Arts hosted an art exhibition and reception on Nov. 16, which featured works created by individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities through the agency's fine arts program.
The event, which took place at OUN's Wheatfield location, allowed participants to showcase works of art they created in a series of workshops titled, "The Fabric of Our Lives - Our Homes, Back Yards and Communities."
Roberta Nickelsen, fine arts coordinator at OUN, said several hundred participants were able to practice instructional tasks, as well as develop workplace-related skills by completing the art workshops.
"It helps with their fine motor coordination, following directions," she said. "All the experiences that we do in fine arts also support the skills that they would need for getting a job."
These educational workshops offered participants with developmental disabilities the opportunity to take part in learning about and creating artwork using various mediums, while also embracing integration into the community.
In addition to the exhibit, Nickelsen said she hopes to show the artwork in public places throughout the community, such as libraries.
"We'd like to not only display them at our places, but also in the community where people can enjoy them. Because, I think when people in the community see the kind of art that people with developmental disabilities are capable of creating, it removes a lot of, not fear necessarily, but preconceived ideas," she said. "Some people that you may judge a certain way, but when you see their artwork it opens your eyes to what they are really capable of."
Nickelsen said the artwork is "a tool for understanding and breaking down barriers and, hopefully, it also facilitates more inclusion in the community as participating community members."
For example, through photography workshops, participants were able to explore and take photos at the Town of Niagara Police Department, the Bergholz Fire Department and the Lockport Fire Department, while interacting with first responders in a calm environment, Nickelsen said.
She explained, "Our guys often have to deal with first responders in stressful situations. And we were hoping that if they had a chance to interact in a nonstressful situation, where they could explore the fire house and the police station with the photography and get to talk with the (first responders) ... that it would help to take some of that stress away for both parties, to get used to each other a little bit more."
For other art workshops, which featured quilting, working with stained glass, photography and other art forms, members were able to work with professional artists, including Patricia O'Kane, Catherine O'Connor, and Karen Gast, as well as those of the Lockside Art Center and The NACC.
The workshops were funded by NYSCA with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; administered by Arts Services Initiative of Western New York Inc.
For more information on OUN, visit www.oppunlimited.org.
Nickelsen stands with participants of various art workshops offered through the agency's fine arts program.