As a Recreation and Leisure Intern at Misericordia, I see creativity around every corner of my job. Misericordia is a residential facility for adults living with developmental disabilities ranging across the spectrum. I specifically assist with art, yoga, and dance classes. Living with a disability requires creativity to simply manage every day tasks. Yet, through art, music, yoga, dance, and more—the residents at Misericordia strive to express their creativity in unlimited ways. My experiences at Misericordia inspired me to search out other communities for Creatives living with disabilities, which led me to the Arts of Life studio in Chicago.
The Arts of Life studio is a space for artists both with and without disabilities to work together and create together. The studio functions somewhat in a co-op model. Whenever a new artist wants to join the space, the entire community must vote and agree upon it. The studio was started by three individuals—a 70-year-old woman (commonly referred to as “granny”) with an intellectual disability and a mental illness, a “self-taught, unconventional artist” and a professional with knowledge about developmental disabilities. The three founders brought in nine others with developmental disabilities who had been living together.
Collaboration is the key component of the Arts of Life studio, as evidenced by their motto: “Creating. Sharing. Growing.” The creating and sharing components are obvious in the co-op and the art, but it is the growing component that I find most creative. The studio runs on four core values:
1. Inspiring artistic expression
2. Building community
3. Promoting self-respect
4. Developing independence
The most unique part of the studio is that it is actually a Developmental Training (DT) program, which is why growth is the third portion of the motto. For people with developmental disabilities, behavioral issues can often arise. DT programs assist in behavioral modification in hopes of adjusting the individual into everyday life activities such as maintaining a job, education, or other extracurricular activities. Arts of Life is considered an “alternative” DT program for people who may have had issues in other programs. My mentor and supervisor, Sarah Wainright, had an internship at Arts of Life in college and described the studio as “very punk” and a space for people who “enjoy the autonomy of art.” The studio is a space of growth for a community that holds artists of all types to a free and autonomous lifestyle of creativity, development, and expression.
I think the creative idea that rings most true from Gardner’s text in the Arts of Life Studio is the triangle of relationships diagrammed as themes in the text—but most importantly the relationship between an individual and other persons in his or her world. I think creativity, especially in the traditional art sense, is thought of to be an individual activity. The Arts of Life studio dismantles this idea completely, just as Gardner writes, “the role of other individuals is crucial throughout their development” (p.8). The creating and sharing process at Arts of Life studio needs a community in order for artists with and without disabilities to flourish. Most uniquely, the "alternative" developmental training program implores the assistance of other individuals and commands growth from all participants in an innovative way.
Sarah Wainright Interview (February 18, 2016)
Creating Minds by Howard Gardner
Photos of art by studio artists:
Tiger by Pam Robe
Skeleton Girl by Danny Frownfelter