Alternative Art on the Move
Shuffled out of a booming downtown, the Cordell Taylor Gallery heads west.
By Ben Fulton
July 21, 1997: Ever since Kathy Lott was a little girl, she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. At first, her talent would appear to be no more than scribbled lines on a piece of paper. But over time, her scribbles developed into beautiful works of art yes, her calling had been determined.
Throughout her teen-age years, Lott continued to strengthen her skills as an artist. However, in 1987, at the age of 17, she had a major setback. Because of a diabetic complication, Lott developed cataracts on her eyes, leaving her legally blind.
"I felt like I had to give everything I loved up, and I felt like my life was over," Lott says. "I quit doing art altogether. I could still see a little bit, but I had the attitude, if I can't do art the way I used to do it, I won't do it at all."
Over the next nine years, Lott dabbled with her art from time to time, but she wasn't really into it. She honestly believed that chapter in her life was complete. All of that changed, however, in December 1995 when Lott became aware of Art Access Gallery.
Art Access, a non-profit organization, is an affiliate of Very Special Arts, an international network that was founded in 1974 by Jean Kennedy Smith, as part of the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts program. The goal of the organization is to "provide quality arts programming and experiences for children and adults with disabilities and other underserved individuals."
Art Access achieves this goal by recognizing no boundaries when it comes to the arts. Ruth Lubbers, executive director of Art Access, says they always focus on people's abilities, the talents they possess.
"People need to be acknowledged for their abilities, not their disabilities," Lubbers says. "The arts are a good way to open the door for this type of experience." And Art Access does not focus on disabilities.
Looking around the gallery, you wouldn't even know any of the artists had a disability. Art Access, which derived its name from the idea that everyone should have equal access, displays work of both professional artists and those with disabilities. And there is no sign pointing out which artist has a disability and which does not.
One Art Access program even pairs up artists. Entitled Partners: A Visual Artist Mentoring Program, a professional artist is matched up, one-on-one, with an apprentice. This is the program Lott heard about. And after a lot of soul searching, she decided to give it a try.
Lott's mentor was Meredith Moench. For about a month-and-a-half, Moench and Lott would get together once a week.
After a few sketching expeditions, and experimentations with ink, water colors, different types of papers and brushes, Lott realized she would never again be able to look at something and draw it. However, she discovered once she had a picture designed in her mind, she could get the image on paper.
"I've had a close-vision lens put in one eye and a distance lens put in the other eye," Lott says of her ability to create her art. "When I need to get an overview of my work, I stand back quite a ways, when I need a close look, need to focus in on a particular area, I get real close and sometimes use a magnifying glass."
Through discussions with Moench, Lott discovered her favorite type of artwork is pointillism, where the texture of an art piece is done in dots. "I can put the dots together to create illusions: shadows, thumb prints, that sort of thing."
Lott especially likes to work with trees. "When I see trees, they're like people. They may be the same type of tree, but they're different shapes and sizes, just like people."
Lott also likes to make statements with her artwork. In one of her pieces, "Reach Out," Lott had two trees on one side of the paper, with one tree alone on the other side. The branches were reaching out to one another. Lott was trying to demonstrate how society tends to circulate within its own little groups.
"My issue was, let's get out of these comfort zones, make new friends." This is exactly what Lott did when she decided to work with Moench.
"Meredith helped me discover within myself that even though I can't do it the way I used to do it, I'm finding a different way to do the same work," Lott says. "I'm much more creative now that I'm within a different structure. I have no rules."
Lott's art was exhibited at Art Access in May 1996 for two months. Out of four art pieces exhibited, two were sold, and Lott will have a piece of her artwork on exhibit next month in a Philadelphia art gallery.
"Art Access has really opened my eyes," Lott says. "It helped me to see what I could become; not to set limitations on myself. I feel like I have something to give back to society again."
Lott is not the only person who has benefited from the programs at Art Access. Many other artists people with arthritis, paralysis, hearing loss and even Downs Syndrome have benefited. Every year, Lubbers says they create four partnerships, and there is a waiting list.
"It's a small number," Lubbers says of the partnerships created. "It's partly because of funding, but we also want to make sure it's a good match. We have to make sure the mentor has something the apprentice wants and we have to make sure their personalities match up."
This year, about 60 artists applied to have their work on exhibit at the gallery and a board will have a decision made by Aug. 5 as to whose art will be on display. The board's goal is to get a balanced display of art exhibited throughout the year. Lubbers says balanced means people with disabilities are well-supported, along with professional artists, underserved individuals and children.
Artists applying to have their work on display have to go through the same ordeal as other art galleries require: They must put together a resume, slides and descriptions of their work. Lubbers says they keep the quality of artwork as high as they can.
"It would be a disservice to the disabled to show art that's not professional. And it would be a disservice to professional artists whose work runs side by side," Lubbers says. And, of course, Lubbers said their main goal is to get these artists out into the real world with the traditional artists.
"We are able to help artists who have disabilities move into the mainstream of the community," Lubbers says. "But we don't give them anything. They have to work hard. And the people who are involved are learning."
Art Access, at 339 W. Pierpont Ave., is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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