April 13, 2005

The Artist in Me Foundation

Filed under: Art and About Changing the World — admin @ 4:05 pm

Last summer, my mom visited a friend in El Dorado Hills and brought back a brochure for a non-profit organization called The Artist in Me Foundation. Founder Susan Lee shares that her active, distractible, argumentative and loud daughter has been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Sensory Integration Disorder and learning disabilities. But this same girl is fun-loving, inquisitive, sensitive and compassionate with a love of arts and crafts. Lee calls art her daughter’s “saving grace” because through art, her daughter can be herself, express herself and do things the way she wants to do them. There are no rules in art. It is fun, therapeutic and captivating for any personality.

I strongly agree with all Lee’s assertions, and I support the mission of The Arts in Me Foundation to embrace the individuality and uniqueness of special needs kids. As their mission statement declares, “Let us nourish their souls and uplift their spirits so they can have the courage, perseverance and vision to make their dreams come true.”

I think this all sounds wonderful, so I continued to read the brochure. I learn that the foundation provides monthly art classes for special needs children and hosts a Young Masters Art Exhibit twice a year to display, award and encourage a passion for art, fostering a sense of self esteem and pride. My mom had pictures to show me of the latest exhibit, for which all the artwork was beautifully framed to show off the masterpieces within. The art in the pictures was vibrant, playful, emotional and impressive.

Finally, I read about the guiding precepts of the foundation which are: To develop self esteem; treat each child with respect and dignity; foster understanding and empathy for the journey these children must travel; encourage creativity and celebrate their unique abilities; discover and develop artistic skills; provide a fun activity where these children feel like they are “regular kids;” recognize their limitations but encourage them to reach their potential; provide an opportunity to fully explore themselves and to embrace their individualism; and instill a sense of hope for the children and their parents.

I can’t argue with any of these precepts, and I staunchly cheer for any organization that espouses them.

But something fell flat with me after reading all this. Of course, I am thrilled that an organization exists for special needs children to gain from the positive effects of art and making art. It reminds me of programs I have written about concerning art programs for Alzheimer’s patients to give them a productive and fulfilling outlet for the creative part of their brain that still has something relevant and important to say. And then there are the art therapy programs for children who have dealt with horrific tragedies. St. Mary’s College in Moraga has exhibited the artwork of rape victims as a means to give those women a voice. In fact, I can’t think of a challenge to the human condition that can’t benefit from a little time with some art supplies. Was it the commonality between these other programs and The Artist in Me Foundation that left me from reaching the heights of exhilaration about their program? Had I finally become jaded about all the ways the arts are beneficial to humanity? I cringed to think that the answer to either of these questions could be “yes.”

And then it hit me that everything Lee writes about the place art has in her daughter’s life should be absolutely true for everyone, whether identified as having “special needs” or not. I wasn’t having a “Wow!” moment because The Artist in Me Foundation is documenting fundamentals. Every one of us is on a journey, every one of us has a unique view of the world, and every one of us is eligible to reap the positive rewards of creating and sharing art. I’m glad Lee and the volunteers for The Artist in Me Foundation have formalized their mission for the special needs kids in their community and focused an art program on a segment of the population which otherwise might be written off in a traditional art classroom. But we must not forget that art underscores the special qualities in all of us.