Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Maryland, program allows people with disabilities to pursue their artistic vision

From The Catonsville Times:

In a small art studio, Tony LaBate (pictured) held his face inches from a large piece of poster board.

With a Sharpie balanced in his hand, LaBate, 21, a Catonsville resident, drew tiny caricatures of himself with Della Reese.

Rows of other characters, drawn in marker and colored pencil, joined LaBate and the 1950s jazz singer on the white board at the Load of Fun building at 120 W. North Ave., in Baltimore.

Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin, characters from the popular TV show "Cheers;" Hamm, the animated piggy bank from the "Toy Story" movie series, Moses and Jesus all made appearances -- their heads large atop their tiny bodies.

LaBate, who has Asperger's syndrome, is one of five artists at Make Studio, an art program that began in February to promote the work of artists with disabilities.

"I like it," said LaBate, who comes to the studio on Thursday mornings, during his usual day away from his parents home, at St. Peter's Adult Learning Center, in Baltimore.

"I get to draw whatever I want," he said.

"He's got such a unique artistic vision and way of representing his inner thoughts and experiences through art," said Jill Scheibler, director of programming and operations at Make Studio, when describing why Tony was referred there.

"And he also has a good attention span and an interest in really working and developing his paintings and his drawings," she said.

Scheibler, who is pursuing a doctorate in community psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, founded the studio with Stefan Bauschmid and Cathy Goucher. Scheibler said that she and Bauschmid had worked at a similar program, Art Enables, in Washington, D.C., and wanted to create something like it in Baltimore.

Scheibler said she has seen the amazing effect similar programs have had on individuals. For people who are nonverbal or have difficulty engaging with the outside world, art programs can change their lives by giving them greater social opportunities, building their confidence and helping them earn income from their own efforts, she said.

"Our goal is to have the artists working as independently as possible, just with supports in place to make that more manageable," said Scheibler, who said she hopes the program will eventually serve as many as 30 artists.

Make Studio offers a range of services that are based on the individual's goals, Scheibler said. While some artists will use art solely as an enrichment or therapy, others wish to concentrate on selling their work and becoming professional artists, she said.

Since LaBate joined the studio in September, Scheibler said she has already seen him grow as an artist.

Rows and rows of characters stare out from one of LaBate's finished works.

The Three Stooges are pictured along with members of the Kennedy family; actress Courtney Cox; Arthur the Aardvark; and LaBate's cousin, Blaise, at his recent baptism.

Jacqueline Kennedy is easily recognizable next to her husband, John, her brown hair flipped up at the shoulders of her pink jacket.

"I thought it was a really good idea," said Jane LaBate, Tony's mother, about the art program, which she said was meant to ease LaBate's transition from St. Elizabeth School in Baltimore to the adult learning center.

"It really is a good outlet for him because he can express himself," said Jane LaBate, noting that her son's imagination is vast.

At the bottom of the poster board, LaBate included a list of James Bond movies that corresponds to which president was in office when they were made.

The interweaving of characters from popular movies and TV shows reflects LaBate's interest in movies. An avid user of Google and other online databases, LaBate is an expert on movie trivia.

In the past, LaBate has volunteered at the Charlestown retirement community, in Catonsville, giving presentations on topics like "The Wizard of Oz," his favorite movie; "Snow White"; and James Bond.

"Sean Connery's been wearing a toupee since he played 007," LaBate said, offering one of the fun facts he enjoys sharing with interested listeners.