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JoCo’s Emerging Artists provides those with disabilities an artistic outlet

Woodworking is one way Daniel McLean, 28, of Overland Park expresses his creativity in the Emerging Artists Program of Johnson County Developmental Supports. He was one of 10 artists selling their works at the program’s annual art sale.
Woodworking is one way Daniel McLean, 28, of Overland Park expresses his creativity in the Emerging Artists Program of Johnson County Developmental Supports. He was one of 10 artists selling their works at the program’s annual art sale. Courtesy photo

Artist Brad Friedman’s work is influenced by shows he enjoyed watching on television and music he liked listening to when he was growing up.

Memories of championship bowling, “I Love Lucy” reruns and the soundtrack from “Superman: The Movie” are all reflected in the oil paintings he creates.

“I used to draw pictures from the TV screen,” he said of his early interest in art.

His work is also influenced by his autism.

Art gave Friedman, 54, a way to express himself in a way that he could not during his childhood. He was one of 10 artists selling work at the annual Emerging Artists art sale in December at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center.

Friedman and other adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities are finding their voices visually through the Emerging Artists Program of the Johnson County Developmental Supports.

“This program is a dream come true,” said Diane McLean of Overland Park.

McLean’s son, Daniel, started participating in the program in October.

“Here he feels respected as an artist,” McLean said.

The Emerging Artists Program provides artists like McLean and Friedman with a studio inside the center on Metcalf Avenue. They have access to supplies, a place to sell their work, professional guidance and peer support. They can attend part time or as often as five days a week.

Daniel McLean, 28, also has a diagnosis of autism.

“It’s easy for him to go inward — this program gets him out into the world and keeps him connected with our reality,” his mother said.

Being involved in art shows and sales gives participants “the ability to be seen as someone besides a person with a disability — they are artists first,” said Cary Odell, program coordinator.

Participants must have talent to qualify for the program: they must already be artists.

Daniel McLean has “always had an eye for design, shape and balance,” his mother said. He expresses himself through woodwork, ceramics and sculpture.

A wide variety of artwork was represented at the annual sale: greeting cards, pottery, paintings, tie-dyed socks, hand-woven rugs and other fabric art. The artists keep the proceeds from the sale of their work.

Wearing a Superman T-shirt, suit jacket and slacks, Friedman promoted and interpreted his work at the sale. One painting, for example, represented a highway he imagined in New Jersey where he grew up. The heavily trafficked highway was lined by rigid rows of trees with mountains in the background.

“My paintings are original — they’re one of a kind,” he said.

Another painting represented his interest in ’70s music and memories of television commercials promoting a popular blond doll: “Barbie the Disco Dancer.”

Often Friedman paints his own image on canvas such as the picture of a bowling alley in a forest where Friedman joins characters resembling Smokey Bear and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Some of the pieces at the sale were made of “papercrete,” a construction material created by mixing together cement, water and shredded recycled paper. Products made of papercrete can be functional or fanciful.

“In drier climates, such as Arizona, homes are built of papercrete,” said Micah Wickstrom, Papercrete Works coordinator. Here, the mixture is poured into molds to create such products as business card holders, bowls, planters and plaques.

Papercrete also can be used more whimsically, such as dipping a washcloth in the mixture and shaping it into a bowl. Papercrete Works employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and pays them hourly wages while they work and learn job skills.

Of the 11 individuals in the Papercrete Works program, two of them are from the Emerging Artists Program.

Both the papercrete and the artists programs are made available to county residents through Johnson County Developmental Supports.

Johnson County Developmental Supports Emerging Artists, 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, KS 66212; 913-826-2629; jocogov.org/dept/developmental-supports

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