Special needs art taking off in Waynesburg

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WAYNESBURG – Marcia Shimok of Waynesburg describes making art this way: “It’s in my head – and now it’s here!”


Step into the Open Arms Drop In Center on 30 N. Washington St. and indeed it is here, there and everywhere, along with the works of dozens of members of the center. Colorful cardboard shapes either hang on walls or emerge as sculptures to sit on tables and fill the front windows for passersby to stop and admire.


Thanks to a grant from the Greene County Community Foundation, artist Kyle Hallam of Jefferson has been able to tap the creativity of those with special needs who stop by the Greene Arc center in Waynesburg on weekdays for programs, socializing, lunch and now art. Some live in town and walk in. Others come from around the county and make use of the county transportation system. Since August, all have had the opportunity to use the free colorful cardboard that Hallam brings in from Greene Arc’s recycling center in Ruff Creek and learn new skills.


Director Victoria Murray couldn’t be happier. “I’m also a certified peer specialist and I love what this program is doing. We all need an outlet. I call this “Therapeutic Art With Kyle” and it’s been a huge success. It is giving people the confidence to use their imaginations. ”


“They call me the art guy,” Hallam admitted with a grin. “Some of the stuff that Marcia’s doing, and Helen and others – they’re inspiring me. This is what I hoped would happen.”


What Hallam hoped would happen started in 2011 when he wrote for and received a Sprout Initiative Seed Award grant to work with Greene Arc and use recycled cardboard to teach the mechanics of folding, cutting and assembling art kits similar to quilting squares. Those who moved the triangles and squares around on the cardboard base could arrange the colors to suit themselves, come up with their own patterns then glue them down.


Art created by the project went on display that spring at the I-79 Welcome Center and was seen by thousands of travelers and drew attention to the good work art therapy can do.


The project continued to expand as both therapy and occupational training and Greene Arc and Hallam found support through the Community Foundation’s Forever Greene Fund of unrestricted money set aside for small initiative grants.


“The next logical step was to bring it to the drop in center for people living more independently,” Hallam said.


In only two months, art is popping on every wall, fueled by the fresh bright colors and wild textures and snippets of advertising text and logos to be found on consumer packaging.


Shimok, whose early art followed the orderly patterns of the quilt square patterns has blossomed into new shapes, then took the plunge into three dimensions.


“Look!” she said proudly, pointing at the wall, then down to her latest sculpture. “I did it all!”


“It gave me the opportunity to do something I’d never done before,” Bill Gabbert of Rogersville said. “I’m quite pleased with the result.”


“The seed from the Sprout grant has sprouted into a whole garden,” Community Fundation Director Bettie Stammerjohn said to Hallam during a recent visit to the Drop In Center to find some art for her office walls. “A couple of grants from us and now you’ve been around long enough for others to see the value of what you do.”


Now Hallam is ready to take the work being done in Greene County to that next level of appreciation. ARC of Luzerne County is getting ready to put on a show of work by special needs artists and Hallam has submitted 15 pieces for consideration.


“I’m hoping they all get in. The theme of the exhibition is Vision of the Future and I think this whole project is a vision of the future that’s happening right now. We’re using recycled materials to make art and managing trash artfully. It’s therapeutic, it has environmental sustainability and it allows these individuals to create thought provoking art for public places. Who would have thought that cardboard that we throw away could do all that?”


Helyn Dambach has another point to add. “I don’t have to buy my art supplies anymore – only glue and scissors.”


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